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Updated: Thursday, 01 Sep 2011, 6:38 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 01 Sep 2011, 5:55 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Students returning to West Michigan public schools next week will find at least 1,041 fewer employees than they did last fall, including at least 424 fewer teachers, according to a 24 Hour News 8 survey.
Of the 117 districts in 14 West Michigan counties contacted by 24 Hour News 8, 67 responded.
A list of school staffing for 2011-12 , compiled by 24 Hour News 8 (pdf)
In Kent County's Northview district, Anna and Ashley Robinette will return to schools with fewer teachers and fewer support staff. Their mom, Karey Robinette, knew it was coming.
"I was concerned this summer about who was coming back to the school," she said.
Specifically, she was wondering about Anna's art teacher.
"My daughter really connected with her and she really enjoyed having her -- and [the teacher] unfortunately won't be coming back," Robinette said.
Northview is, of course, hardly alone. Dozens of districts are starting the year with a smaller staff.
Of the 1,041 fewer employees, 421 were laid off, accoridng to the survey. The rest retired or resigned and were simply not replaced.
The survey numbers are estimates, in part because many districts have not fully finalized staffing for the 2011-12 year. In addition, some districts totaled their staff using "full-time equivalent" or FTE numbers, meaning the loss of three part-time teachers would be listed as a drop of 1.5. Other school systems counted their staff using the number of actual people.
There were a handful of districts -- including Hopkins, Hudsonville and the Lakeview and Pennfield districts in Calhoun County -- that are reporting a higher teacher count. That's often thanks to higher enrollment.
But cuts are happening even in some districts that, like Northview, are expecting more students in the seats.
So what will students there see?
For one thing, Superintendent Mike Paskewicz told 24 Hour News 8 there will be fewer adults checking in to see how children are doing.
"The other thing that people will see is higher class size numbers all across the district. We're looking at 30 except in the very young grades -- K, 1 and 2. So we boosted those. They'll feel that," he said.
It's difficult for many districts to calculate class size before the school year begins, but school systems including Portage are expecting small jumps. And student-to-teacher ratios are expected to grow slightly in Cedar Springs, Lowell, Shelby and other districts.
Robinette says it concerns her a little bit.
"Because sometimes if your class size gets too big, your child -- especially if they maybe need a little extra help -- they might get lost in the system," she said. "If they truly need help, I think they'll get them there. But if they're on that border, they might actually lose that little bit of learning in that area."
A number of school administrators stressed that looking at just one year can mask a wider picture.
Paskewicz, for example, said he's been making budget cuts for 13 years as supeirntendent of several districts in several states.
"It's happening everywhere," he said.
In Michigan, the superintendent said he sees a funding system that's set to continue spinning downward.
"Unless you do something with this (K-12 funding) structure, this culture and climate (within the school) and tie to public education is going to go away quickly," he said.
Northview was able to avoid deeper cuts thanks to concessions from employees, Paskewicz said.
That happened in a number of other West Michigan districts including Rockford and Greenville, school leaders said.
In Sparta, the district sent pink slips this spring to roughly three dozen teachers, counselors and social workers, Superintendent Kent Swinson said.
Support staff took a wage freeze for the second year in a row.
"It's pretty difficult," said Lisa Hunter, vice president of the union representing the employees. "We're obviously the lower-paid group in the district."
And all Sparta employees are now on new health plans, the superintendent said.
"I would say the insurance was the biggest, most glaring deal," said Rick Meindertsma, who heads the teachers union in the district. "Because that affects every member personally and it affects their family."
Swinson said that because of the contract changes "and the way all groups worked together, we were able to recall every single person from that certified staff layoff."
That's 38 pink slips taken back, he said, though the superintendent acknowledges not every district can avoid all teacher layoffs with that step.
There were other sources of savings for Sparta. Bus drivers were privatized. And the district is using some of its fund balance -- its savings.
The superintendent for the Parchment School District in Kalamazoo County told 24 Hour News 8 that district is using fund balance as well "in hopes that funding improvements will come for the 2012-13 school year."
But if funding improvements don't come, Swinson notes -- you can't keep dipping
into savings year after year.
"Because once you've spent that money, it's gone."
School District Staffing As Reported by Districts in 14 West Michigan Counties (Districts Yet to Respond Are Listed Below) Allegan, Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Montcalm, Newaygo, Oceana, Ottawa, St. Joseph, Van Buren
NOTE: Total staff may be negative and teaching staff positive, for example, if teachers were added but enough other staff were cut to make the overall count negative.
Allegan -4 Total Staff, -1 Teacher
Allendale -10 Total Staff, -6 Teachers
Athens -1.5 Total Staff, -0.5 Teachers
Belding -9.5 Total Staff, -7 Teachers
Bloomingdale -8.5 Total Staff, -3.5 Teachers
Bronson -2 Total Staff, 0 Teacher Change
Burr Oak +0.5 Total Staff, 0 Teacher Change
Byron Center -12 Total Staff, +4 Teachers
Caledonia -3 Total Staff, -3 Teachers
Cedar Springs -19 Total Staff, -9 Teachers
Climax-Scotts -3 Total Staff, -2.5 Teachers
Coldwater -12 Total Staff, +4 Teachers
Constantine -7 Total Staff, -3 Teachers
Coopersville +3.05 Total Staff, +0.05 Teachers
E. Grand Rpds. -4 Total Staff, -1 Teacher
Fennville -16 Total Staff, -4 Teachers
Forest Hills -100 Total Staff, -43 Teachers
Fremont -4.5 Total Staff, -2.5 Teachers
Gobles -8 Total Staff, -8 Teachers
Godfrey-Lee -21 Total Staff, -4 Teachers
Godwin Heights -8 Total Staff, -5 Teachers
Grand Haven -19 Total Staff, -4 Teachers
Grand Rapids -274 Total Staff, -72 Teachers
Grandville -29 Total Staff, -3.5 Teachers
Greenville -10.15 Total Staff, -6 Teachers
Gull Lake -30 Total Staff, -2 Teachers
Harper Creek 0 Staff Change
Hastings -20.5 Total Staff, - 3 Teachers
Holton -5 Total Staff, -4 Teachers
Homer -3 Total Staff, +1 Teacher
Hopkins +3 Total Staff, +2 Teachers
Hudsonville -5 Total Staff, +7 Teachers
Jenison -18.77 Total Staff, -7.67 Teachers
Kalamazoo -33.1 Total Staff, -7.9 Teachers
Kent City -7 Total Staff, -7 Teachers
Kentwood -17 Total Staff, -25 Teachers
Lakeview (Cal.) +11 Total Staff, +7 Teachers
Lakewood -3 Total Staff, - 3 Teachers
Lowell -15 Total Staff, -8 Teachers
Mar Lee -1 Total Staff, -1 Teacher
Marshall -10 Total Staff, -3 Teachers
Mattawan -15 Total Staff, -10 Teachers
Mona Shores -6.5 Total Staff, 0 Teacher Change
Muskegon -54 Total Staff, -29 Teachers
Northview -34 Total Staff, -19 Teachers
Nottawa 0 Staff Change
Oakridge -5 Total Staff, -5 Teachers
Otsego -5 Total Staff, -2 Teachers
Parchment 0 Staff Change
Paw Paw -10 Total Staff, -10 Teachers
Pennfield +7 Total Staff, +5 Teachers
Plainwell -3 Total Staff, 0 Teacher Change
Portage -48 Total Staff, -24 Teachers
Quincy -13 Total Staff, -6 Teachers
Ravenna -5 Total Staff, -5 Teachers
Reeths-Puffer -16 Total Staff, -11 Teachers
Rockford -3 Total Staff, -15 Teachers
Saranac -16 Total Staff, -5 Teachers
Schoolcraft -14 Total Staff, -6 Teachers
Shelby -12 Total Staff, -7 Teachers
South Haven -7.5 Total Staff, -5.5 Teachers
Sparta -25 Total Staff, 0 Teacher Change
Tekonsha -1 Total Staff, -1 Teacher
Thorn.-Kellogg -1 Total Staff, -4 Teachers
Vicksburg -7 Total Staff, -4 Teachers
West Ottawa -20 Total Staff, -19 Teachers
Whitehall -7 Total Staff, -7 Teachers
Districts Yet to Respond