By Ian Perrotta
There could be some controversial changes in Hamtramck Public Schools.
In late November, State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) introduced two bills to the state legislature that would temporarily extend the powers of the district superintendent. Under the proposal, public school employees’ pay and benefits could be tapped for unilateral reduction in the case of a financial emergency.
If passed, the bills would grant school districts the legal authority to require the superintendent to make cuts. School districts that are in a deficit and have average teacher salaries at or above the top third of the national average, and/or benefit levels above the state’s private sector’s average, would be able to override existing union contracts and labor agreements until 2011.
Hamtramck’s school district would qualify. The district currently faces a $1.1 million deficit caused largely by the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. The ability to temporarily curtail some of those expenses could give the district the opportunity to stabilize itself financially.
“If the McMillin bill would help Hamtramck Public Schools get out of our deficit quicker, I’m all for it,” said Superintendent Tom Niczay in an email statement to The Review. “The long term financial health of the district is my responsibility, and I take that responsibility seriously.”
Niczay also said that while he does support the concept of reducing employee salaries and benefits when a district is in a deficit situation, provided those salaries are above the national average, he does not know the specifics of the bill or what the national average figures are.
But one thing is clear: during the summer the district was informed that health insurance costs for union groups would increase nearly $500,000 more than they were expected to, compounding the district’s already dire budget situation.
There is also another movement afoot for school districts.
For the last month a federation of school districts in the region have been collecting signatures as part of a petition to “Save Our Students, Save Our Schools and Save Our State,” and on Tuesday Dec. 8 those signatures – including about 1,000 from the Hamtramck area – will be brought to Lansing in an effort to show legislators that people are outraged about the cuts to funding. On Dec. 10, the legislature will vote on another round of aid cuts.
“I’m hoping they will restore the most recent proposed cut of $127 per pupil,” says Niczay. “We are also hoping for a new school funding method so this insanity of making cuts after budgets have been established does not go on year after year.”
Accompanying Niczay will be Hamtramck Public Schools parents Loretta Bonner, Bill Hyde and Jamie Branch. Board of Education members Titus Walters and Hedy Shulgon will also be making the trip.