A shot of good news is helping to take the sting out of a contentious summer for Saline Area Schools.
Word the state legislature rolled back the retirement percentage for schools means the district will experience an $800,000 savings. That will aid in rebuilding the fund balance which has been the epicenter of a near financial meltdown earlier this year.
Superintendent Scott Graden was upbeat Thursday relaying the news about the legislature’s decision to return the Michigan Public School Retirement System (MPSRS) rate from 27.72 back to 24.44. That will save the district $800,000 for the year and stave off future cuts for the time being.
But the influx of cash doesn’t mean the district is going to go on a spending spree, Graden said.
“This certainly takes the pressure off,” he said. “This is a good thing, but it is the first good thing in quite a while. Our immediate needs are to replenish our fund balance.”
The extra cash means the district will have some stability in its finances and the ability to handle any future bad news without automatically making cuts. Getting the fund balance back to a healthy margin is the top goal.
“That is the plan,” Graden said emphatically. “It seems we have got a lot of the structural costs in line. And now with the pension costs -- they really were skyrocketing, dealt with, those were two big issues that were driving our decisions financially.”
As the district heads into the new year, Graden said there was “peace in the valley” in regard to the relationship with the unions. Administration and the unions have worked on projects this summer to heal the wounds.
The contract talks were difficult, but Graden said the district did not have to go without a contract and the staff realized they needed to get a deal done for everyone. Both sides shared the same intent, he noted.
“They came in offering concessions and we came in asking for concessions,” he said. “Negotiations occurred about what it would look like.”
The mood of the teachers however could sour as they will soon be getting their first checks of the year under terms of the new contract. That’s going to mean cuts in pay of $3,000 to $10,000 depending on seniority.
Reactions were strong two years ago when wages were rolled back, he said. Teachers and other staff also have to pay a portion for health care and have to contribute to their retirement.
“Some will realize the extent of what they gave back,” Graden said. “It’s one thing to say I am giving up something, it’s another when it actually hits.”
The savings realized from the MPSERS decision will not translate into more money for the teachers.
“We know with a two-year contract our costs so our somewhat locked in for next year,” Graden said. “If we don’t make our student enrollment numbers we have to make sure we have some ability to afford the change.”