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Fenton schools adopts ‘nickel and diming’ policy to cut costs district-wide, hoping to decrease chances of financial instability

Ellie Bennett, Assistant Print Editor in Cheif

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Budget cuts, some students hear these words and think that the school is cutting programs, teachers and even changing how the school day works. But when Superintendent Adam Hartley and Executive Director of Finance and Personnel Doug Busch hear these words, they think of small things that can be changed or eliminated in order for the school district to stay on track financially.

“For the past year, we’ve looked and continue to look at everything that costs money or generates revenue, and question if we can we do this more efficiently and effectively,” Hartley said. “Let me give you an example: in a month we’re going to be kicking off our new website. We took a long time, with the Director of Technology Mr. Powers, building principals, Dr. Busch and myself all talking about what changes needed to be made to the website, what we were looking for and why we have even a website to begin with. All those questions, like why do families even visit our website, we asked ourselves how can we better answer that and in a way that we can we save money. So, in the end, we’re going to have a new website and it’s going to look 10 times better, and not only can you go to the website on the computer, but, on your phone, there will be an app that students and parents can get. By doing this, we are saving around $10,000 a year.”

Last year, rumors circulated about multiple cuts that may be made to the budget, block scheduling being one of them. Some students were worried that they would have to say goodbye to the two-day schedule and have it be replaced with a one day schedule full of six classes. While block scheduling currently remains, that doesn’t mean these cuts aren’t possible for the future.

“We have been looking at block scheduling just as much as we have everything else,” Hartley said. “If you’re looking at block scheduling in the way it’s set up, it takes more people to run a block schedule than a six or seven hour day. It is more expensive, so we have looked at that, and we’ve continued to look at it; we’ve crunched the numbers, but it’s not to the point where Dr. Busch and myself can say, ‘okay, to save money, we are going to do away with block.’ That’s something that is negotiated with teachers, administrators, and the board of education.”

The district has been working for the last couple of years to bring the savings account’s balance up, putting more than $1.2 million into the account to ensure that Fenton doesn’t become a deficit school.

“Last year we brought in $200,000 more than we spent , and that $200,000 goes into our savings account,” Busch said. “Some districts get into trouble because they will have more expenses than they do revenue, and they’ll take from their savings account to level it out. When they do this, the savings account decreases, and when a district’s account drops to a certain amount, it can become a deficit school, meaning their bank account is empty, and they’ve dipped below that 0 percent line. In the last couple of years, we have made really good progress with putting more money into our savings account, and that’s been a positive for the district. We ended this year with a budget surplus, which is going to be close to a million dollars in savings this year. That brings us up to 3.4 percent in the savings account by the end of this year.”

Fenton has received the lowest amount of funding per pupil awarded to schools in the state since the passing of the Proposal A Educational Bill in 1994. Even if the savings account percentage goes up, Fenton can never move past being a baseline funded school.

“There’s two different ways that the government determines how much a school gets per student,” Busch said. “The first way it’s determined is by the creation of a yearly bill in the state legislature to fund Michigan public schools. This bill goes through the legislative process, and they put a dollar figure into how much money a district is awarded. Back in 1994, the state changed this law completely. The bill that changed it, called ‘Proposal A’, prompted legislators to hit what you could think of as a reset button. They then put a base foundation for all districts, bringing everybody up and guaranteeing that each district gets at least $5,600 per pupil. So, school districts that struggled for funding were then at least getting this amount. The other schools that were getting lots of funding in the first place and wanted to stay up there were willing to pay for the difference. With each year there are small changes, and this year each district in the state will get $100 more per student.”

The Fenton district has been trying for the past few years to get the district’s account back above the five percent line, and will look to surpass that mark in years to come by using the new cost reduction plan.

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