By Charles Sercombe
Last week Hamtramck Schools Superintendent Tom Niczay warned that if school employees don’t soon agree to contract concessions, there could be a state takeover of the district.
The school district thought it was facing a $2.8 million budget deficit last January, but that figure has since ballooned to over $6 million.
The clock is ticking for the district in more than one way.
With a new governor about to take office, there are warning signs that Governor-Elect Rick Snyder will cut deep into state spending. That could very well include forcing financially struggling school districts to merge in order to save money.
That concept isn’t exactly new. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has urged districts to merge for over a year, and in fact offered financial incentives to entice districts.
But most communities are resistant to merging because it means a loss of identity and political independence.
Getting teachers’ unions to agree to contract concessions is a tougher sell. Some teachers see the call for concessions as a ruse — a foot in the door — toward breaking their union. Union leaders also say teachers are already over-worked and under-paid.
Last week’s call for union cooperation from Superintendent Niczay didn’t seem to have an impact on the 100 or so teachers who attended the school board meeting.
Bo Karpinsky, the president of Hamtramck’s teachers’ union, said the union has already helped the district save money, but just how was a bit unclear. He did not return a call to clarify his comments. Subsequent calls to his home went unanswered.
Niczay invited the district’s three unions to meet with him on Dec. 1 or 2 to discuss ways to save money. The biggest savings would come from a less expensive health insurance plan. The unions, however, have been resistant to significant changes to their coverage plans.
Niczay said he has to submit a revised budget deficit plan by Dec. 15. If he has no savings plan in place, it’s anyone’s guess how the state will react.