School board reconsiders elementary realignment amid budget crunch

SWARTZ CREEK — Facing critical cuts to revenue in the next two fiscal years, the Swartz Creek Community Schools Board of Education is revisiting the idea of re-aligning the elementary schools.

“When we brought it up before, we didn’t do it for financial reasons,” said Superintendent Ben Mainka.

Mainka initially introduced the concept to the Board of Education in December 2018. At that time, he proposed housing all kindergarten through second-grade classrooms at Morrish and Syring elementary schools, and all third- through fifth-grade classrooms at Dieck and Elms schools, and making Gaines Elementary a magnet school offering programs such as 4H and Future Farmers of America.

Bending to community outcry, district officials put the plan on the back burner.

Mainka said “mixed feelings” were expressed in several community forums.

“Some people said they really liked it; others really didn’t like it,” he said. “At that time, we decided we wouldn’t pursue it. We’re now facing the potential for some very large cuts.

“Our goal should always be to preserve the systems and programs to help children be successful. One thing we should look at is efficiency. … Unfortunately, due to the shut down and where we are now, school districts will be asked to make decisions very quickly to prepare and brace themselves (to respond) to the economic impact.”

Projections point to an estimated $1 billion shortfall statewide for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, he said.

“We’ve never seen a cut of that magnitude across the state,” Mainka said.

Cuts to the per-pupil allowance could land anywhere from $300 to $700. At the low end, that translates to a loss of about $1.1 million for the Swartz Creek Community Schools.

Administrators are digging deep into the budget, looking for anywhere they can trim costs, as they await word on whether any federal funding will be available to help offset some of the losses.

“We’re looking very closely at staffing; we’re looking at lay-offs,” Mainka said. “We’re looking at how we provide as much efficiency as we can.”

The Swartz Creek school district has been maintaining a healthy fund balance which it can dip into to assist in weathering the storm, but there are as yet so many unknowns that it will be challenging to draft a 2020-21 budget by the June 30 deadline, Mainka said.

“We are legally required to pass a budget by June 30, yet the state is not going to give us any information to make an informed decision,” he said.

For now, the Board of Education does not have a realignment plan.

“I believe this is an opportunity for us to get to a place to see some efficiencies that do not limit or hinder student learning opportunities,” Mainka said. “I believe we’ve been thrust into this conversation out of financial reasons now. It is our current reality.”

Realigning the elementary schools could save the district about $600,000.

Administrators hope to have a detailed report prepared for the school board to consider at its next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 24.

If approved, the plan could take effect this fall.