Schools To Take A Hit

By Charles Sercombe

There’s good news and bad news for Hamtramck’s public schools.

First the good: It appears that the district has an uptick in student enrollment this year. The unofficial head count reveals that there are 160 more students this year than last year. The increase has stopped a slide in student enrollment over the past several years. The unofficial total student headcount is 3,040.

It also means that district will collect more money in state financial assistance. Each student brings in a little over $7,316 each in state revenue.

Which brings us to the bad news. At the time we went to print, state legislators were grappling over how much to reduce the state’s multi-million dollar budget deficit. Legislators were proposing to cut $218 per pupil.

For Hamtramck’s schools, that will result in a loss of over $662,000. Schools Superintendent Tom Niczay said the district is already facing deficit spending this year. He said he would have more details about school finances at the next School Board meeting (held on Oct.14).

The proposed state cut in school financing will have a “devastating” impact, Niczay said.

“They (state legislators) are cutting from the wrong area,” Niczay said. “If Michigan wants to be a competitive state, it can’t make this cut.”

Gov. Granholm has been warning districts that unless they start to merge or at least merge some services, she will punish them financially. Niczay and others have said they are against merging Hamtramck with its neighbors, Highland Park and Detroit.

Hamtramck’s public schools’ yearly budget is about $33 million. Niczay said that with the extra students enrolled this year he can’t lay off teachers. He said the only place to reduce costs is in the price of health insurance for employees.

But in order to do that, Niczay will have to reopen contract talks with the schools’ unions. It’s a fair guess that the teachers’ union will resist cuts to health benefits. Niczay said it might come down to taking the issue to court.

In related financial news, state legislators are also looking into slashing the amount each community receives in revenue sharing. There have been several figures suggested, from 20 percent to 11 percent.

No matter what the reduction, Hamtramck’s $18 million budget has little to no room for cuts. On top of that, the City Council just approved a new contract with the police officers’ union giving them a 3 percent raise.

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