Okemos Public Schools face daunting budget cuts

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Slide show on Okemos schools

By Kelly Reeves
Meridian Times staff writer

Okemos Public Schools have a big decision to make at the end of the school year regarding budget cuts.

Due to Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent budget-cut proposal for education in Michigan, schools are faced with a cut of almost $960 million from the state’s K-12 budget that is about 5.3 percent of the $18 billion spent to run Michigan’s K-12 schools.

State Aid Funding

Okemos Public Schools and all other K-12 school systems in Michigan would also need to increase their contribution to the school employees’ retirement system.

In total, the impact on schools would be about $715 per student, a deficit between approximately $2.5 million and $5.3 million for Okemos Public Schools.

This would be an incredibly significant cut on top of the the over $8 million cut by the district over the past 10 years said Kinawa 5-6 Principal John Hood.

The big question for Okemos Schools is what programs are going to be cut to accommodate the new budget plan?

“We just don’t know yet. It’s going to be awful. The school district has never seen something like this before,” said Robert Clark, director of accounting for Okemos Schools.

In regards to potential cuts, Hood said, “everything is on the table for consideration…all transportation, athletics, counselors, reading teachers, administrators, outsourcing of departments, increasing class sizes, reducing benefits and pay… and even all of those combined may not solve the problem.”

The school board will be looking into this situation more within the next month, and on April 25, discussions are going to take place regarding what will be cut.

Part of the problem is the uncertainty about Snyder’s proposal because it is not set in stone.

“It’s all proposed, but whether or not it is implemented, we will still change our budget by June 30 this year,” said Patricia Trelstad, interim deputy superintendent.

“We have a lot of unknowns regarding what will be eliminated from the school district. We have two months to figure this out and the intensity will be picking up,” said Clark.

Okemos High School student Nicole McKenna is uneasy about the prospect of sports being on the list of potential cuts.

Okemos High School Track Field

Okemos High School Track and Sport Field

“If sports were cut, I think students’ grades would go down because they wouldn’t have an outlet. Plus, I think it’s important for students to have something to do activity-wise, because obesity is already a problem and sports getting cut would only lead to more students gaining weight,” said McKenna.

Laurie Harkema, the vocal music teacher at Cornell Elementary expressed that she is concerned that music programs may be cut to balance the new budget plan for next school year.

“I’m concerned because it would effect their whole education as a child because participation in music activities helps develop the whole child. It would also really limit their possibilities for a future with music,” said Harkema.

“It is really a sad prospect to realize that the programs we have to offer our students will not match up to the programs and opportunities and support offered to kids 15 years ago when I started in education. I will not allow this to be an excuse to do my job poorly. I will work harder than ever to meet the needs of my students,” said Hood.

Hood said Okemos Public Schools will make cuts, just like it has every year, but has hopes that the lawmakers will realize that more than the school budgets are broken.

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