By Justine McGuire
Williamston Post staff writer
WILLIAMSTON – Williamston Community Schools have had to cut spending for academics, faculty and administration.
Finance Director Steve Cook said that for this school year the district lost $470 per student but regained $200 per student in incentive money based on percentage growth in state test scores. In total, the district lost $270 per student or about $500,000.
The district now gets $6,888 per student, or a total budget just shy of $16 million.
Cook said that there is a potential for gaining another $90 per student through incentives for the coming school year, and that other money for the district should stay the same.
Budget cuts have made classes a little different at the high school this year.
“Prior to my arrival here, Williamston schools did everything they could to keep cuts away from the classroom,” Thoenes said. “This last year (budget cuts) impacted the classroom directly.”
The Michigan Merit Curriculum requires 18.5 credits of core subjects. Semester schedules allow for 24 credits in four years, meaning that students get 5.5 elective credits. Trimester schedules allow for 30 credits in four years, allowing 11.5 elective credits.
Williamston High School went from a trimester schedule to a semester schedule, Thoenes said. He added that the real impact has been on electives. Students have less time for electives, so the district was able to reduce electives, lay off teachers and cut costs.
“If you increase the requirement demands but do not increase the number of credits you can offer students, something has to give and what gives in that situation are your elective classes,” Thoenes said. “You lose them out of your schedule.”
Advanced Placement English teacher Jean Eddington-Shipman said in an interview for “Williamston High School strives for AP achievement” that the change is also affecting AP classes; with the semester schedule, 36 hours are lost out of each AP class for the year since daily class times are shorter to accommodate six classes instead of five.
In addition to laying off elective teachers, the school has had to cut many benefits that teachers previously had. In exchange for a 1 percent raise, teachers gave up wage increases based on experience, longevity bonuses and pay more for health insurance.
Thoenes said that these are all savings for the district, but at the expense of the employees.
“When I first started in education – this seems crazy now – you might get a 3.5-4.5 percent increase in a year,” Thoenes said. “Now that seems like Wizard of Oz. It used to be that you could get a raise, plus you weren’t paying so much for insurance, plus you got longevity, plus you got steps. (Now) the money is not there, it’s not provided, so the schools have to cut.”
The district has also streamlined busing routes, cut librarians and some secretarial staff, consolidated with Okemos for food services and consolidated with Haslett by sharing a business manager, a finance director and a technology director.
“I believe that the way our current financing works is going to perpetuate these problems,” Thoenes said.
He added that some Michigan school districts have fewer than 100 kids and a lot of money could be saved by combining small districts.
“The economy in Michigan is still struggling,” Thoenes said. “These issues are very complex and have long histories and there’s no easy way to point a finger and say someone’s the villain so I’m not going to do that. I just know that it’s very important to choose political leaders wisely so you have people in office that have the knowledge of how education works and how to prioritize helping districts.”