Westhoff adds principal duties, $20,000 salary increase

REED CITY — It was difficult for some at the Reed City Area Public Schools’ board meeting to accept laying off six teachers and six support staff while offering the superintendent a $20,000 raise, but ultimately the board decided it was best the move for the district.

On Monday, the board approved 5-1 a budget for the 2012-13 school year, which included a $665,817 cut. The budget reductions were achieved by:

  • Laying off six teachers, two at every building;
  • Eliminating the elementary choir program;
  • Eliminating two paraprofessional positions, which were no longer needed because the students assisted by those staff members graduated this year;
  • Eliminating one secretarial position through retirement;
  • Eliminating two crossing guard positions through retirement. The district still has two crossing guards; and
  • An administrative restructure that included the retirement of high school principal Tom Antioho from his current position. He will be rehired with the district to complete teacher evaluations at every building. Superintendent Steve Westhoff will take on the role of high school principal in addition to his duties as superintendent, for a pay increase of $20,000.

Board vice president Ed Raby opposed the reduction proposal and the 2012-13 budget, saying he could not approve of the pay raise for Westhoff while teachers are laid off. Trustee Dave Lucey was absent from the meeting.

“I just can’t support the notion of laying off teachers,” Raby said. “I think our community has had enough of watching us give to certain groups of people and lay off others.”

With the $20,000 raise, Westhoff will make $135,154 a year, which makes him the highest paid superintendent in the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District.

The next highest paid superintendent in the MOISD is Shirley Howard, of Chippewa Hills School District, who makes $116,980 a year and also acts as an elementary school principal in a district with more students than RCAPS.

Without an administrative restructure, Westhoff said the district would need to lay off nine teachers in addition to the other staff reductions in order to balance the budget.

Raby proposed an alternative administrative restructure that would promote assistant high school principal Monty Price to principal, instead of having Westhoff take over the position. Price also is the athletic director and just completed his first year as assistant principal after being promoted from his previous position as teacher. However, Raby said he wasn’t sure how Price would balance both the athletic director and principal roles.

Board president Dan Boyer pointed out that the district would not be able to hire a separate principal, assistant principal or athletic director for $20,000 a year, so having Westhoff take on the additional responsibilities would save money for the district.

“Why would we pay someone who is already the highest paid employee in the district more money?” Boyer said. “I’ve rolled that over in my head, because I know that’s not popular. ... But I can’t come up with a way to do this cheaper and do what’s right for kids.”

Boyer emphasized that the restructure would save teaching positions and thus maintain class sizes. Compared to average class sizes at other schools within the MOISD, Reed City schools have some of the smallest elementary class sizes but the largest average high school class size.

Of the 45 community members gathered at the meeting, many still expressed their disapproval of the administrative restructure.

Physical education teacher Lisa MacDonald said that all school staff have been asked to take on additional responsibilities without additional compensation as the district has tried to reduce its expenses in recent years.

“Teachers in the classroom are being asked to do more and more and more – with no compensation,” MacDonald said. “Now we have a superintendent, who in this proposal, is going to be asked to do additional things – no different than a classroom teacher – but we’re going to pay him $20,000 more. That’s where I have trouble.”

MacDonald asked Westhoff, during public comment at the meeting, if he would take on the principal role for no extra compensation. He replied he would not.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult (to take on the duties of principal in addition to the superintendent’s responsibilities),” Westhoff said. “It’s going to take me away from my family. But at the same time, ... we’re looking for ways to keep people in the classrooms.”

As the district’s evaluator, Antioho will work 85 days of the school year for a salary of $31,000. He also will receive a retirement incentive of $10,000 a year for four years. His current total compensation is about $138,000, so the district will save money on his new role.

Another benefit will be more consistency in teacher evaluations, Boyer said, because the same administrator will conduct all of them. Under recent state law, the teacher evaluation system will become more rigorous next year, so having a designated evaluator will take some of the burden off building principals so they can focus on aiding teachers in other ways, Boyer added.

Other factors in the 2012-13 budget include offering free admission to athletic events for students, which will equate to about $8,600 in lost revenue for the district. Board members decided it was important to offer students that perk.

One-time revenue will come from the sale of the Hersey Elementary building, which the board approved selling for $65,000 to a party that plans to use the facility for adult care. The district had not used the building in seven years, Westhoff said, and it cost about $10,000 to maintain while it sits it empty. Part of the sale agreement stipulated that the building could never be used as a K-12 education institution, which will prevent the possibility of a rival charter school opening in the district.

The district also increased its allotment for capital outlay projects to $200,000, compared $75,000 in the current school year’s budget. Those extra funds are needed for necessary building repairs that would have been covered under the failed Regional Enhancement Millage, Westhoff said.

Other financial factors – such as the retirement rate, student enrollment and best practice incentives – remain uncertain, Westhoff said. Much of the district’s funding is decided by the state, and legislators started a month-long recess on Friday before approving a final 2012-13 budget.

“You’re losing revenue every time you turn around, and of course expenses are going up,” Westhoff said, citing the personnel and energy expenses as the fastest growing fixed costs the district has. “That’s why, as a school district, we’re spending more and more of our fund equity.”

RCAPS’ fund equity – or “rainy day fund” – was at $2.15 million in 2007, which has steadily been reduced to a projected $343,219 for the 2012-13 school year.

Creative budget solutions are necessary, Boyer said, as the district cannot continue spending its fund equity. The board decided to table discussion on leasing buses, which is another option for reducing expenses.

“At some point, it becomes fiscally irresponsible to not have any fund equity, especially when we are at the mercy of other funding agencies,” Boyer said. “While I’m loath to make reductions that will directly impact kids – and almost every one of these will – I feel it’s the responsible thing to do.”

The board will meet again at 7 p.m. on July 16 in the board room.