Wayland School Board begins critical examination of casino funding

The Wayland Board of Education MondBudget2_2ay evening began serious and earnest work on the next fiscal year’s budget and on the issue of how the district should spend money it receives from the Gun Lake Casino during hard economic times.

The board took up these issues in a work session and committee of the whole meeting that lasted more than three hours. Board members and administrators went over each item for the $1.5 million Wayland Union Schools receives annually as part of an agreement forged when the Gun Lake Band of Potowatomis opened its gaming facility in February 2011.

The casino money has been divided into three different significant pots — $633,152 for public improvements, $346,315 in instructional support and $508,237 in community support. The board and administration discussed each of three categories in depth without coming to a decision yet about whether that money should continue to be spent as it is now.

How the money has been distributed continues to be a bit of a mystery. Some board members still refer to a citizens’ committee that helped determine spending priorities, but there has been increasing pressure from the public since to re-think how casino money should be used because of the decline in the schools’ general fund balance from 19 percent to just 7.5% in the past year.

“We need to know where we need to go from here,” said Board President Nancy Thelen. “We need to decide what our direction will be.”

Treasurer Tom Salingue said, “We need to go down the list the list on how our money’s being spent and prioritize if we’re coming up short in the general fund.”

Finance Director Bill Melching said, “Philosophically we need to we have to determine where you stand and where does the community stand on priorities and spending… we need to come out with a general overall philosophy.”

Vice President Teresa Dobry said she believes the highest priorities for continuing casino funding would be in the science wing addition, the iPad program and school nurse.

Melching said former Wayland Schools Administrator and Mayor Linden Anderson told him casino officials would like to see where the money is going as opposed to just rolling it over into the general fund.

New Board Member Pete Zondervan noted that the schools have a general fund budget of more than $26 million annually, yet, “It’s this $1.5 million that is the most politically charged.”

Former Board of Education member Jeff Salisbury has insisted that Gov. Rick Snyder’s next proposed budget will be awful for the local school district, but Melching wasn’t quite so pessimistic. Melching suggested the state will provide a $75 increase in per-pupil state aid, propelling the support figure above $7,300. He said that would mean eventually that Wayland Union Schools would get an increase of $254,394, bringing the total revenue to $27,103,482 and expenditures would be expected at $27,360,127 for a deficit of about $256,000.

One of the biggest reasons Melching wasn’t so pessimisitic was that the final rules of the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, would not actually kick in for Wayland until July 1, 2016. By that date, the schools would be required to offer health care to 95% of its employees who work at least 30 hours a week. The requirement currently is at 70 percent. So the choice would be between offering the health care or cutting hours of employees to make them ineligible.

The board will continue discussions and deliberations on the 2015-16 fiscal year budget, which must be adopted by June 30. The next work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 23. The next regular meeting of the board will be at 7 p.m. Monday, March 9.

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    ​By David Britten – superintendent, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

    Setting the record straight on the Governor’s “huge” K-12 funding increase
    Posted on February 13, 2015 by David Britten

    Once again, the media jumped on the lead lines coming out of Governor Rick Snyder’s presentation this past Thursday of his 2016 school aid budget. Perhaps you heard it extolled by any one of several local radio or television news reporters. If you did, you likely heard something like: Governor Snyder proposed a huge increase for public schools by increasing the foundation allowance by $75 across the board. Well, it might have been a little different than that, and if you heard it multiple times like I did, you probably realized the exuberant reporter was providing greater emphasis each time on “huge.”

    Which it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

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