IM school board weighs pay cuts

By LINDA LOBECK

Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – Financial woes continue to be a top concern for the Iron Mountain Public Schools moving forward.

And a possible 7.5 percent pay cut for all employees may be one option to deal with the deficit the school district is facing.

This was the major concern expressed by teachers and parents who attended Monday’s board meeting, which was held in the high school media center to accommodate the crowd.

In order to get out of the current deficit, the school board and administration are faced with the task of either increasing revenue or cutting costs.

Teachers and parents spoke up at the meeting asking the administration and board members whether they knew certain facts – mostly about the extra things the staff does within the school and community.

The teachers, members of the Iron Mountain Education Association (IMEA) teachers union, have been working without a contract for the past 31 months.

The school district is currently in deficit spending, and with a state-approved plan must turn that situation around in the next three years.

The school board and administration are looking at some options to increase revenue. The first is a possible sale of the Central School building to someone interested in putting in an assisted living facility. Another avenue is to sell properties owned by the school district that are empty as well as one with a house on it that the district had purchased years ago.

The district is also looking at marketing avenues to bring in more students. This includes a new web page.

The teachers pointed out that they are involved in many volunteer efforts, and volunteer their time and personal funds to help the school and its students.

Sarah Heathman, of 830 East F St., a parent with two children in the elementary school also addressed the board. She wondered if the board had gone with a deficit budget from the beginning of the school year and kept smaller class sizes whether they would have seen less students leaving the district.

“But the response was when they were leaving to go ahead and let them go. Parents believe that their child’s education is a top priority. The district was expected to lose around 50 students this year and it turned out more than 100. This made a big impact on the budget, and from my standpoint could have been avoided by listening to them this summer,” Heathman said.

She added that she is concerned that the teachers do not have a contract.

“It’s absolutely a last resort to say you’re going to cut salaries,” she said. “The bond has helped with the morale to get things that needed to be done. And when completed, we want the district to be something that the community can truly be proud of.”

Danielle Dumais, the IMEA president and a teacher in the district for the past 15 years, asked the board if they knew that the increase in the cost of insurance has been taken on by the teachers at a cost savings to the district.

“And a 7.5 percent pay cut for the teachers will mean a $1.5 million decrease in money being spent in the area,” Dumais said. “Do you know that almost all of the teachers have a second job just to make up what they have already lost?”

Brenda Swartout, another IMEA president, noted that the union’s proposal is based on research into areas of overspending in the district.

Lori Cevigney, a 24-year-teacher in the district, said that they have been working without a contract for 31 months, but despite that, they continue to be there every day for the kids.

Emily Ritsema, a teacher in the Breitung Township Schools, reiterated her support for the staff at Iron Mountain.

Mary Couper, of 633 Detroit Ave. in Iron Mountain, a retired Iron Mountain teacher, noted that the taxpayers were asked to support the bond proposal for the school district for state-of-the-art classrooms.

“But what good is that if you don’t hear what people are saying and you don’t have the staff,” Couper said.

Katie Maxon of Iron Mountain said after listening to the number of years the teacher speaking at the meeting had with the district it was more than 250 years total.

“Having this experience in the school district is such a benefit,” Maxon said. “We owe it to them to not cut their pay. Solve these problems without making this cut.”

Supt. Tom Jayne repeated that he always takes the time to thank the staff for all of the extra activities they volunteer at and what they do for the school district and the community.

“We hear you. I don’t think it’s fair to say we are indifferent,” Jayne said. “We held eight public meetings in the spring and summer and I took responsibility for this in front of everyone. I don’t think that is indifference. We definitely are lot looking at cutting salaries or staff – it’s a worst case scenario – eight months away. We don’t want to do that and have been working hard behind the scenes to find other ways,” he said.

He again talked about the work to sell Central School, which could lead to helping out the district.

“I’m not turning my back on anyone and I appreciate what everyone is doing,” Jayne said.

“We appreciate all the volunteering that goes on with everyone on our staff – union and nonunion. We are working with city hall to try and get some help and gain some extra revenue in our budget. I’d never turn my back on anyone,” Jayne said.

He added that they have listened to everyone and will be putting art back in the curriculum for grades 4-6 next year.

“All your hard work we appreciate and it doesn’t go unnoticed. We are hoping not to take anything away and can do this by working together,” Jayne said.

He added that they respect the MEA’s last proposal and after getting the updated information cut $1.2 million in those areas.

“We hear you and are glad you came out,” he said. “We know our staff is our greatest asset and it pains me to be in this situation.”

Board president Jeff Michaud also thanked the group for coming to the meeting noting that there were many heartfelt sentiments expressed and points brought up. He stressed that they need to focusing on going forward and being positive.

“The number one thing that gets us out of this is to increase our revenue. Everyone has to help do this and move forward. I love this school district,” he said.

Michaud apologized for letting his emotions get to him.

“I’m dedicated to this school district and want to resolve these problems so we can move forward,” he said.

Linda Lobeck’s e-mail address is llobeck@ironmountaindailynews.com.