School closures possible in Gwinn

MARQUETTE – The Gwinn Area Community Schools Board of Education continues to grapple with a $1.2 million deficit that could cause school closures and layoffs in the coming year.

A number of community members attended Monday evening’s board meeting, voicing their concerns over the possibility of losing their school buildings next year.

Superintendent Kim Tufnell said the board began looking during its finance committee meetings at any options, no matter how drastic, to reduce the district’s massive deficit.

“As we (were) looking at the budget and trying to figure out how we’re going to balance the budget, there were many ideas that we threw out on the table,” Tufnell said this morning. “One of the options … was to close Gilbert for a year, move everyone out to K.I. Sawyer and go to the public for a bond issue to update Gilbert.”

With a smaller square footage, Tufnell said Gilbert was not big enough to house all 575 elementary students in the district.

However, closing Gilbert would also mean the district would be forced to take four classrooms currently being used by the Marquette County YMCA’s early childhood development program at K.I. Sawyer Elementary to be used for regular instruction.

The board was planning to vote on renewing the Y’s contract with the district – which is up at the end of June – but decided to table that decision until it knew if the program would have a place to call home next year.

“It’s a year-to-year contract,” Tufnell said. “Our hope was just to be able to roll that over, and you come to a situation like this, and you’re going ‘Oh, wait, we need four more classrooms. How are we going to do this?'”

Tufnell said another option was to keep both elementary buildings open for next year during construction of an addition to the high school, which would eventually centralize the district in one complex.

“The problem is, when you’re facing a $1.2 million deficit, how do you keep your buildings open and maintain … when you’re in a deficit?” Tufnell said.

The biggest issues continuing to plague the district, according to Tufnell, are declining revenues and declining enrollment – especially when much of the state’s funding is based on the number of students in the district.

“We’re estimated to lose another 34 students next year,” Tufnell said. “It goes back to revenue problems, not an expenditure problem. Yet, how do we balance the budget and maintain the integrity of the classroom?”

No action was taken at Monday’s meeting concerning school closures.

The board voted unanimously to extend the employment of each building principal for one year, though the possibility of shutting down a building remains on the table.

“There is not any easy solution to what we’re trying to solve,” Tufnell said.

The board also voted to renew Tufnell’s contract, though there was some dispute over salary. Tufnell’s annual salary is $95,000.

The board voted 4-2 in favor of the renewal, with board members Bill Nordeen and Ron Lauren casting the two dissenting votes.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.