By Harold C. Ford
As an eventful 2019-2020 educational year came to an official close June 18 for Flint Community School (FCS) students, the district’s board of education met a total of 10 times in the months of May and June.
On June 17, Casey Lester, FCS board president, figuratively and remotely banged the final gavel on a tumultuous year marked by:
- a global pandemic that shut brick-and-mortar schools;
- dramatic and sudden changes in the district’s administrative lineup;
- continuing efforts to provide its student population with a safe supply of water;
- proposed school closure/consolidation plans that riled the community;
- voter approval of a millage proposal that took a giant step toward restoring some financial stability;
- negotiation of employee contracts that brought all three FCS bargaining units into settlement with the district;
- adoption of a revised 2019-2020 budget (Fiscal Year/FY20) and an initial 2020-2021 (FY21) budget; and
- the continuing attrition of staff and students.
Revised FY20 budget adopted:
The revised and final FY20 budget that ended June 30 was adopted by the FCS board on a 5-0 vote. The budget included total revenues of $109,068,177 and total expenditures of $94,978,796.
After adjustments, Carrie Sekelsky, FCS executive director of finance, expected to end FY20 with a fund balance of $10.7 million.
Revenue sources for FY20 included: “local sources” (nearly $9 million); “state sources” ($35.2 million); “federal sources” ($26.3 million); “interdistrict and other sources” ($38.7 million).
“Other sources” included the initial sale of fiscal stability bonds afforded by voter approval of a March 10 millage proposal. Passage of the proposal by a 69 percent to 28 percent margin allowed the district to restructure 4 mills for the purpose of paying off the district’s massive, accumulated debt in an estimated seven years.
The debt burden on the district is illustrated by a line item amount of $24 million for “debt service” in the FY20 budget.
“I’m very happy to report it (bonds) went out today (June 17) for investors to place orders. We are selling $30,620,000,” said Sekelsky. “Within a few hours we had orders almost totaling $60 million. … that was wonderful news today.”
FY20 expenditures included: “instruction” ($30.1 million); “support services” ($40.9 million); and the aforementioned “debt service” ($24 million).
Sekelsky highlighted the district’s financial burden for providing special education services. “We’re overspending in special education by $5.6 million dollars for the year,” she said.
Initial FY21 budget:
The initial, projected FY21 budget was adopted by the FCS board on a 6-0 vote. The budget anticipated total revenues of $60.3 million and total expenditures of $73.1 million.
After adjustments, Sekelsky projected that FY21 would end June 30, 2021, with a nearly $13 million deficit.
Revenue sources for FY21 include: “local sources” ($9.2 million); “state sources” ($32.3 million); “federal sources” ($18.6 million); and “interdistrict and other sources” ($240,867).
Sekelsky noted that “other sources” of revenue from FY20 to FY21 are significantly less “because next year we won’t have the fiscal stability bond. …”
FY21 expenditures include: “instruction” ($31.5 million); “support services” ($40.6 million); and “debt service” (about $1 million).
Again, Sekelsky highlighted for board members and the public the district’s challenge of funding special education. She expects overspending that line item by $8.2 million in FY21.
“Most all of the areas we’re spending less,” said Sekelsky. That’s due primarily to the aforementioned loss of cash infusion provided by the FY20 sale of fiscal stability bonds and the anticipated decline of state aid caused by the pandemic and a resultant poor economy.
“The first major assumption (for the FY21 budget) is the reduction in foundation allowance (state aid) per pupil. …” said Sekelsky. “There still is a $1.2 billion (statewide) anticipated loss in the school aid fund, which (represents) a reduction of between $650 and $700 per pupil.”
Each enrolled student currently brings about $8,000 of state aid into Michigan school districts.
FY20 and FY21 bottom line:
The bottom line for the FY20 and FY21 budget cycle, according to Sekelsky, is an anticipated fund balance deficit of $2.1 million.
An amended Enhanced Deficit Elimination Plan (EDEP) will now be forwarded to the Michigan Department of Treasury for its review.
The FCS board previously sent an amended EDEP to the state in April, following the successful millage vote in March. Recent fiscal realities prompted further amendments of the EDEP and FCS budgets.
Tax requests for next fiscal year:
Sekelsky reported three streams of revenue for Flint schools provided by millage assessments on local properties.
“We will be levying the 18 mills of our operating school mills on non-homestead (properties),” said Sekelsky. Non-homesteaded property is property that is not a person’s primary residence and is not protected by a homestead exemption. Non-homesteaded property can include, but is not limited to, commercial property, rental property, and second homes.
“We will also be levying 1.18 mills for our sinking fund,” she added. The sinking fund levy is applied to business/commercial properties only and provides revenue for FCS infrastructure such as boilers and technology.
Sekelsky concluded: “We’re going to levy 2.82 mills for our debt fund and that’s to cover the fiscal stability bond that was voted in March.”
Revenue generated by the 2.82 mills is expected to reduce the number of years to retire the district’s debt from 16 to seven.
Quick passage of student activities fund budget:
In separate — but related — actions, the FCS board quickly approved the final FY20 and FY21 budgets for the Student Activities Fund on 6-0 votes. The fund is projected to have a fund balance of nearly $2 million at the end of the budget cycle(s).
Food service fund — not so fast:
The FY20 final budget for the Food Service Fund was approved by a 6-0 vote of the board. Sekelsky projected a fund balance of $484,671.
The board’s review of budgets got bogged down, however, when it arrived at the initial FY21 budget for the Food Service Fund. Trustee Vera Perry doubted the wisdom of passing the budget for a food service program located at a facility, the Northwestern campus, whose future was very uncertain.
Perry worried that “some other things would have to added that would throw (the food service budget) out of whack.”
Trustee Blake Strozier agreed. “We don’t know how long we’ll be there … so we don’t want to add additional monies to the district to have to do something that we don’t need,” he warned.
Johnson Controls estimate triggers alarm
Board concern about the Northwestern campus was stoked by an approximate two-hour presentation to the FCS board by Johnson Controls on June 9. Johnson Controls estimated a minimum $4 million cost to bring the campus up to speed in terms of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other needed upgrades.
Sekelsky agreed with reservations expressed by FCS board members. “The conversation about what’s happening at Northwestern needs to be addressed before we can really determine what the Food Service budget is,” she said. “Building repairs at Northwestern will determine the status of Food Service.”
After nearly 30 minutes of discussion, the FCS board, by general agreement, tabled the FY21 Food Service budget.
And with that, the 2020-2021 location of the district’s central kitchen services operated by Sodexo MAGIC — as well as the location of Flint’s 7th and 8th graders — became uncertain.
(Editor’s note: A report on the current status of the Flint Northwestern campus is found elsewhere in East Village Magazine.)
Contract with administrators approved:
By a 5-0 vote at its June 10 meeting, the FCS board approved a new contract with the Congress of Flint School Administrators. Administrators had been working without a contract since June 2015.
Administrators approved the two-year agreement on May 29 by a 95 percent margin.
“It is a positive example of a move forward for the district,” said Cassandra Washington, FCS executive director of human resources. “This contract would be a growth model for our school leaders to actually leverage their talents so that they may be those instructional leaders that we seek to cultivate throughout the district.”
The contract includes: a 3 percent raise for all Congress members; paid time off days; attendance bonuses; paid time off upon retirement; new hire signing bonuses; and a stipend for administrators who sub for teachers.
The contract also includes an increase in the starting rate for entry-level administrators by approximately $4,000. “We have had challenges recruiting administrators to the district because our salaries were not competitive,” said Washington.
The contract with administrators brings all three employee bargaining units into settlement with the district. United Teachers of Flint ratified a new contract with the district in August 2019 by a 96 percent margin. Paraprofessionals — members of Local 517 of Service Employees International Union — inked a new contract at the end of 2019.
Steward settles in as FCS interim superintendent:
At its meeting on May 20, the FCS board elevated Anita Steward to an assistant superintendent/interim superintendent appointment from her assistant superintendent position. The move included a hike in base pay from $111,034 to $150,188.
Public comments by board of education members during the May and June meetings have indicated satisfaction with Steward’s performance since she took over central office duties after the sudden suspension of then-Superintendent Derrick Lopez on April 15.
“I am so proud of this administration, especially the way you guys have kicked in, in the middle of not only a pandemic, but within an emergency in the district itself,” proclaimed Trustee Carol McIntosh. “You guys are doing a great job. My hat goes off to you.”
The next scheduled meeting of the Flint Board of Education is a July 8 meeting of the Committee of the Whole.
EVM Education Beat reporter and Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at email@example.com.