- Flint Schools bringing millage to voters
- Paraprofessionals ink new contract, attrition slows
- Wright to step down as board president
- Distraught stakeholders plead with board
- District to decide on proposed closures
By Harold C. Ford
Following four meetings of its board of education in December, Flint Community Schools (FCS) will ask Flint voters to approve a March 2020 millage proposal designed to eliminate the district’s massive deficit within seven years and provide funding for infrastructure.
The FCS board also inked a new contract with its paraprofessionals as staff attrition seemed to slow. Diana Wright announced she would not seek another term as the board’s president. The district will move to develop a plan for its growing list of vacant buildings and unused properties.
4.0 millage request coming to voters
FCS will ask voters to approve a 4.0-millage proposal headed for the March 10 ballot. The millage proposal is designed to pay off the district’s massive deficit within seven years and provide funding for infrastructure.
The ballot language had to be submitted to the City of Flint City Clerk’s Office by Dec. 17 and then sent on to the Genesee County Clerks Office by Dec. 19.
The proposal, according to FCS Superintendent Derrick Lopez, would not increase the current 4-mill rate assessed district taxpayers. “(The proposal) would keep the bonding at the same amount of 4 mills but 2.82 of those mills would actually be put towards debt elimination and 1.18 of those mills would be for the sinking fund.”
Sinking fund millage is applied to business/commercial properties only, said Lopez. “The sinking fund is actually for infrastructure you cannot see; it’s for your boilers, technology…We’ll actually replace all of the boilers in our district (except for the Southwestern and Scott buildings where boilers have already been replaced).”
A mill is one one-thousandth of a dollar, and in property tax terms is equal to $1.00 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment. Thus, 2.82 mills is equal to $2.82 for every $1,000 of assessed property value; 1.18 mills is equal to $1.18 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
FCS officials are working to reduce a massive debt that began with a nearly $20 million loan taken out by the district in 2014. Lopez told the FCS board in November, “We’ve run about a $5.7 million deficit every year…for about five years.”
The district’s red ink has further been exacerbated by increased costs for special education and declining enrollment. According to Lopez, the FCS student count as of Oct. 31 was 3,809 students. Each lost student costs the district about $8,100 in state aid.
Poring over student enrollment figures not released to the public, the board’s vice president, Blake Strozier, noted “substantial losses” of students at Neithercut, Brownell, Eisenhower, Holmes, and Durant-Tuuri-Mott.
“That’s just a lot,” said Betty Ramsdell, the board’s secretary. “It’s very, very sad.”
Fate of several district buildings to be decided
District officials expect to decide the fate of several buildings by February 2020. Buildings targeted for closure include Scott School, Pierce Elementary, Eisenhower Elementary, and the former Northwestern High School that currently houses Flint Junior High.
Board members urge caution
“We need to look really hard before we vote to put a new roof on a building,” said Vera Perry, board trustee, “because we have voted to put new roofs on buildings and the next year we close them. That school has to stay open.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s mismanagement,” judged Strozier. “It was just improper planning.” He recalled earlier decisions to install air conditioning and a new gym floor at the Northern High School building that was closed two years later.
Advisory committee to develop plan for abandoned properties
The Flint board approved language that will establish an “advisory committee for development of plans for the disposition of vacant and unused school district buildings and property.” As of Dec. 1, 2019, FCS possessed 22 closed school buildings and 16 vacant property parcels. Those numbers may soon increase.
Flint Schools millage to compete with Mott CC millage
The proposed Flint millage will compete with a countywide millage proposal by Flint-based Mott Community College on the March 10 ballot. MCC’s board of trustees voted Nov. 25 to submit to voters a proposal that would continue the college’s authority to issue bonds for capital improvements.
“The new bond millage,” according to an MCC press release, “ is estimated to be .79 mills for the life of the bonds. This means a homeowner whose house is valued at $80,000 would pay $31.60 per year under the proposed bond millage levy…”
And the FCS millage proposal will confront Flint voters only four months after they approved “both a renewal of the current Flint Public Library millage, and a new millage for a $12.6 million bond issue to redo the (Flint Public Library).”
Paraprofessionals get first pay raise in 15 years
FCS paraprofessionals inked a new contract that provided them their first pay raise in 15 years. The previous contract for the 67 members of Local 517 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had expired in June 2018.
Flint’s SEIU members will receive a 5 percent pay raise this year and an additional 5 percent raise next year. The new contract also provides improvements in longevity pay, more paid days when school is cancelled due to weather, and more money when paraprofessionals substitute for absent teachers.
“It has been a very successful and collaborative process,” said Cassandra Washington, FCS executive director of human resources. “I want to say how important they are for the work they do in the classroom assisting the teachers and providing those services that are so greatly needed.”
(Writer’s note: A most sincere apology is extended from this writer to Cassandra Washington, FCS executive director of human resources, for inexplicably misidentifying her in several previous stories despite accuracy in note-taking. During her short six-month tenure with Flint Community Schools, Washington has settled two major contracts with district employees.)
Paraprofessionals as substitute teachers
Apparently, paraprofessionals are being utilized as substitute teachers in Flint classrooms with increased frequency as evidenced by recognition of, and remuneration for, subbing in the just-settled contract.
The tactic of utilizing paraprofessionals as substitute teachers is in addition to the newly adopted approach in 2019 of staffing classrooms with “guest teachers”, many who are college students completing classes to achieve certification.
Staff attrition may be slowing
Board documents reported the resignations of four more FCS educators with 32 years of experience. That brings to 76 the total number of departures in the first 11 months of 2019 (including one death) representing 965+ years of experience in Flint schools.
“This is a reciprocating issue,” said Strozier in reference to two employees with very short tenures. “They just resign or quit two months later (after hiring in).”
“We have seen a significant decline in individuals leaving the district,” responded Washington.
Distraught stakeholders plead with board
Kathy Moore, a former Flint student and FCS employee since 1993, pleaded with the board to address the challenges of working in FCS buildings.
“I love what I do,” said an emotional Moore, “but I found myself in the corner crying like a baby. My heart hurts.”
“You can’t pay me my worth,” said Moore. “There ain’t been no teacher in my room all year. You want me to be the teacher but you don’t want to pay me to be the teacher.”
“I’m asking you (board members and administrators), what we going to do about all of these teachers that ain’t in these buildings?”
Flint resident Alonzo Price followed Moore to the speaker’s table. “I went to Northwestern as a volunteer,” said Price. “I went over there and seen how these kids they say is challenging. Some of ‘em ain’t just challenging, they just disobedient, hardheaded.”
“The teachers over there are suffering because somebody say you can’t say nothing,” reported Price. “When you get to a point when you can’t say nothing to our kids, that’s ridiculous…It ain’t right.”
Wright won’t seek reelection to presidency
Diana Wright, board president, announced that she will not seek reelection as president at the board’s organizational meeting on Jan. 8.
“It has been a very difficult but rewarding experience,” she said. She noted that, among her first duties as the board’s president was the firing of one superintendent (Bilal Tawwab) and the hiring of another (Lopez).
Wright, with three years remaining on her term, does not plan to go off the board. “My goal is that I will not sit on this board and plan our (FCS) demise,” she said. “My goal is to advocate for the advancement and improvement of Flint Community Schools.”
Funding approved for math and reading interventions
The board approved the adoption of a reading intervention program by the Baltimore-based Success For All Foundation at a cost of $752,229.
Three math literacy programs provided by Young People’s Project, Ohio Math Literacy Initiative, and The Algebra Project, Inc was approved at a cost of $773,081.
Title 1 monies from the U.S. Department of Education will provide funding for all four programs.
Superintendent’s holiday message:
Lopez sent board members and administrators off to a winter break with a holiday message. Some excerpted passages are found immediately follow:
“Let us remember the principle, ‘Peace to all and good will toward men.’ What does that mean in our community and how can that feel and look?”
If you see a child, just greet him because kids want to be seen and they want their humanity to actually be valued. Show them a little love and kindness.”
“So give ‘em a shovel to shovel your snow and give ‘em a few dollars. They’ll respect you more. They’ll listen to you even better.”
“This will demonstrate the value of work and the value of community. And this is important for their personal growth and their development. “
“Just be mindful of our influence on our children within our community during this time. Your individual act may spark a flame in that child that will burn for a lifetime.”
Students and staff return from the holiday break Jan. 6.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.