Marquette school board OKs $28 million budget

MARQUETTE – The Marquette school board approved a 2014-2015 budget of more than $28 million during its regular meeting Monday night, with a projected end-of-the-year general fund balance of just over $1.3 million.

The ending fund balance includes a loss of $643,877 because of expenditures outstripping revenues.

The board also approved continuing with a hard cap health insurance plan, a move Assistant Superintendent for Finance Deb Barry said would save the district roughly $127,000.

Barry said the hard cap insurance plan will help employee bargaining units who have a 300/600 deductible plan, which Barry said all union groups have in their contracts for next year except the Marquette Area Education Assocation, which is still operating without a current agreement.

The teachers are currently under a 200/400 deductible plan, which Barry said costs them more under the hard cap.

Barry said moving to the 300/600 deductible would help ease the costs for single person and full family plans under the hard cap insurance. As of this morning, 26 teachers are using the single plan, 35 are using the two-person plan and 85 are under the full family.

The board approved the hard-cap insurance in a unanimous vote, though little discussion was offered, a move that upset some teachers in the crowd.

Fred Cole, lead negotiator for the MAEA, said the district had for years been predicting budget deficits much larger than what actually occurred.

“Fortunately, those predictions have not come through,” Cole said, adding teachers should be worth a small fraction in the overall budget.

Cole said the latest proposals between the two sides had a $100,000 difference.

Also built into the budget was $48,000 for capital expenditures, a move that worried board member Matthew Williams.

“I am truly concerned that we are investing zero dollars in our buildings,” Williams said.

Superintendent Bill Saunders said a thorough analysis of capital projects needs had been done, but was heavily dependent on a sinking fund millage out for a vote in August.

“If we don’t pass a sinking fund, that process, throw it out the door, because now all we’re doing with the money that we have is putting out fires,” Saunders said.

At previous meetings and again Monday, teachers discussed the personal toll negotiations were taking on their lives. Monday, some board members joined that discussion.

Secretary/Treasurer Jean Hetrick, a former teacher and school administrator, said many of her teacher friends would no longer talk to her.

“That has not been a picnic either,” Hetrick said.

Board member Laura Songer said she hopes the state feels embarrassed about public education funding.

Williams said he often felt he accomplished more as a school volunteer than as a board member, saying the board’s hands were tied by strict state and federal regulations on the appropriation of funds.

Board President Rich Rossway said the board had “stood tall” over the years, continuing to provide raises and steps despite facing budget deficits.

“If that is indecent, then I guess I stand guilty as accused,” Rossway said.

Vice President Mike Kohler did not attend the meeting.

In other action the board:

– approved a $123,000 five-year technology management agreement with Northern Michigan University

– renewed its membership in the Michigan Association of School Boards

– set board and committee meeting dates for the remainder of the this calendar year

– approved a memorandum of understanding to establish a pilot program for a middle college

– increased school lunch prices by 10 cents

– approved a nonunion negotiation proposal.

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