6/30/20 – Grand Rapids school board approves $10.6M budget cut for next year due to coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – (Mlive) –  The Grand Rapids school board unanimously approved its 2020-21 budget, which includes a cut of $10.6 million, due to projected reductions in state funding following the COVID-19 pandemic.

For weeks, school leaders have been preparing the district community for the cuts in staffing, pay and programming, but took the closure of school buildings and Montessori changes off the table.

“I think that’s probably the most sobering if not somber vote that I’ve had to take in my nine years or so on the board,” school board member Raynard Ross said.

More than 100 district employees, including those in central office, teachers and facilities/operations staff, as well as three members of the superintendent’s leadership team or cabinet, will not return in the fall.

The $212.5 million budget includes a salary reduction for the leadership team, including incoming Superintendent Leadriane Roby, by an average of 5%. Employee wages and benefits were frozen.

Expenses will also be cut across the board, including $1.2 million from the district’s transportation budget, from route refinement, field trip and athletic trip reductions.

Staff reductions will largely be achieved through not filling vacancies caused by retirements and resignations, John Helmholdt, the district’s communications director, told MLive, rather than through layoffs.

Those changes were presented and approved during Monday night virtual budget hearing and board meeting in order to avoid closing Aberdeen, East Leonard and Ken-O-Sha schools and cutting Montessori prekindergarten programs. There was significant community pushback to that proposal.

The school district had originally proposed three responses to the upcoming funding cuts, Helmholdt said: the school closures and slashing Montessori programming; sweeping staff cuts; or a combination of the two options.

“The overwhelming response was, ‘Do not close schools’” or change the Montessori program, he said of the sentiment expressed by parents, students and staff.

When the district announced on Friday that it would no longer entertain the idea of the unpopular first option, it also shared that it would cut $3.3 million in programming costs through changes to staff.

That included $1.5 million in cuts to staff and expenditures in the district’s central office and cabinet, and $1.8 million in reductions to school staff, Helmholdt said.

Three cabinet positions will be eliminated: a contracted cabinet member on special assignments; the director of curriculum; and the executive director of facilities. The first two of those are cost-saving position eliminations, Helmholdt said, while the third will be achieved by not replacing Ken Klomparens, who retires effective July 1.

A total of 111 staff positions will be eliminated under the adopted budget, including 53 from the central office and 58 from schools. Of those, 20 are administrative positions, and 31 are represented through the Grand Rapids Education Association (GREA).

“There was no decision here that didn’t affect our students and our staff, so there was no decision between easy and hard, just hard and hard,‘’ said Jen Schottke, school board vice president.

Helmholdt said the districts anticipates achieving that number through resignations and retirements, with the goal of not letting anyone go. If layoffs are necessary, the district will follow a process in accordance with its collective bargaining agreement, he said.

The additional budget cuts will take place through cost reductions to supplies, facilities, and, notably, transportation. A $1.2 million reduction in transit costs will lead to route changes, Helmholdt told MLive, as well as “reductions in field trips and athletic trips.”