Pontiac may lose state aid for failing to reduce debt

Even after two rounds of staff layoffs—the most recent on April 13—the Pontiac school district still hasn’t reduced enough of its $24 million deficit to receive its April 20 state aid payment.

The move by the Michigan Department of Education, who is overseeing the progress of the district’s deficit elimination plan, has questions about the district’s progress.  Not only does the district stand to lose $1.25 million in state aid this Friday, future aid payments will also be withheld.

Forty teachers were laid off last Friday with only two days notice. Substitutes were hired to cover those classes.

Walter Burt, Pontiac’s interim superintendent, is looking to staff to bear the brunt of the deficit elimination plan since they are the most costly. However, mismanagement of funds by the administration is the reason the district is so deeply in debt.

Pontiac Education Association (PESA) President Aimee McKeever said, “It isn’t fair to take out the actions of the administration and the board on the teachers, the students and the community.”

The PEA and the district are in negotiations with a mediator. The district is proposing a 10 percent pay cut, in addition to other cuts in benefits.

“We reached a tentative agreement with the previous interim superintendent. The parts of the contract the current superintendent wants to change have already been negotiated. Why does restitution have to come back on teachers when the school board is the one responsible for the problem?” asked McKeever.

If the district can’t meet the targets of their deficit reduction plan, the next step may be the appointment of an emergency manager.

With only 45 days of school left, Pontiac lays off 39 teachers

April 16, 2012 - The scene at Owen Elementary School in Pontiac on Friday, April 13 was one you would expect to see in June—tearful students and teachers; personal items packed away in boxes; parents meeting with teachers.

But the emotional scene was being played out early because the district laid off 39 teachers and Friday was their last day of work.  Teachers were notified on Wednesday that they were laid off, and in the case at Owen, had until 4:30 p.m. on Friday to clean out their classrooms.

Five teachers received layoff notices at Owen—one being the only fourth grade teacher in the building. All district elementary music and art teachers also received notices.

Parents and students were stunned and angered by the news. There are only 45 days left in the school year. On Monday, classes were covered by substitutes. Parent conferences are also suppose to be held this week.

“This is absolutely devastating,” said Aimee McKeever, Pontiac Education Association President. “Students will have to be shifted to other classrooms. Class sizes will balloon with as many as 32 students in a kindergarten class, and as many as 40 students in the other grades. That is unacceptable.”

Pontiac schools is facing a $25 million deficit, caused by financial mismanagement. A former deputy superintendent has been indicted for stealing funds from the district. The April 13 layoffs represent only a $1.2 million savings.

This is the second round of cuts the district has implemented. The first layoffs were at the beginning of the second semester. Another round of cuts is expected May 1.

The district is calling the situation “unfortunate,” but they have to make the cuts. Meanwhile, students, parents and teachers are facing a devastating situation.

McKeever said, “Because the district mismanaged funds and allowed people to steal from us, they’re putting that burden on the backs of teachers and making the community, the teachers and the students suffer.”

Friday was also the last day for six paraprofessionals.