Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 6, 2013

Alba school faces funding woes


TRAVERSE CITY — Tough financial times at Alba Public School prompted district officials to seek concessions during contract renegotiations with the Antrim County school's teachers and support staff.

Superintendent Rich Satterlee said the single-school, 180-student district's fund balance is nearly gone after officials dipped into that coffer to the tune of $100,000 annually over the past several years.

"This year we've spent down the fund equity," Satterlee said. "We can't rely on it anymore."

In December, Alba Public School's Board of Education approved several cost-cutting measures, an effort to keep some money in the fund balance for emergencies.

Cuts included elimination of a day care program and an administrative secretary position, as well as a reduction in paraprofessionals' work hours.

The board also continues to negotiate with the district's teachers and support staff unions. The district's 2009-12 contracts with the two employee groups ended Aug. 31; teachers and staff are working under terms of those now-expired agreements.

"It's not the best situation, but we are negotiating with the two labor groups trying to get some concessions," Satterlee said.

Board of Education President Roy Wicht declined comment on the ongoing negotiations.

First-year Alba School teachers with a bachelor's degree earned a base salary, not including benefits, of about $29,000 for the 2011-12 school year, according to the district's teachers union contract.

The base salaries for first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree at Mancelona Public Schools and Kalkaska Public Schools in 2011-12 were about $35,300 and $32,700, respectively.

Roughly 990 students attend Mancelona schools and about 1,600 attend Kalkaska schools.

Alba support staff positions range from custodian, to cook, to librarian. Support staff members usually earn hourly wages, which vary greatly by position and across districts.

Union representatives from Alba Public School could not be reached for comment.

Most public districts throughout Michigan face budget problems in light of stagnant foundational allowances from the state and uncertainty about whether Gov. Rick Snyder will include "one-time" funding sources in his upcoming budget proposal, Satterlee said.

Alba Public School started its 2011-12 fiscal year with about $369,000 in fund balance, according to a district audit. The fund balance was roughly $124,000 at the end of that fiscal year.

District officials hope to end the current fiscal year with a fund balance of $75,000. The district's total budget is approximately $1.6 million.

Satterlee said Alba Public School operates with a tight budget, not a deficit. He said the district survived hard times before and will do so again.

"It's a small school in a small town, and I think this school is the center of the community," Satterlee said. "We plan to be here for years to come."