By Jessica Mathews /

The Fowlerville Community Schools Board of Education met virtually on Tuesday night and tabled for action on some proposed layoffs and staff reductions but that didn’t stop concerned parents from speaking out.

Administration, with unanimous support of the Personnel Committee, recommended with “deep regret” the layoff of instructional staff, as well as the reduction of instructional staff. The changes were said to be made due to a decline in student enrollment, as well as budget issues. A reduction and layoff of 5.8 teaching staff is proposed due to the number of students at each grade level.

The virtual meeting was well attended and had more than 65 people present. The majority were parents who spoke during call to the public in support of some teachers being targeted to be cut or laid off. Many shared positive personal experiences and the impact teachers have had on their children. One parent of seven questioned why only teachers are being laid off, not the higher up’s who don’t have a direct impact on children. Another commented that he hopes his children can return to a regular classroom for structure and the attention that comes with in-class instruction from educators. Board members were all present and the vote to table the matter to the next meeting was unanimous. One parent commented they felt it was a wise decision given that schools don’t know what’s coming out of Lansing and there are so many unknowns with cuts, enrollment and other issues. Amanda Konopaska recently moved to the area with two small children and works in a different school system. She commented that teachers are the heart and souls of schools. Konopaska thanked the board for tabling the items but urged members to rethink cutting or laying off teachers. She encouraged the board to think of different ways to possibly merge leadership or something in higher up because teachers are what keeps schools alive and they need to keep them around.

Board Trustee John Belcher felt it was important to explain some of the reasoning and stated the board is being asked to vote on the principle of the idea of layoffs, which is established by a rubric based in law and board policy. He stated he felt it was important for people to realize the list of names being presented is from that rubric and an established process, not the board or administration. Belcher commented the board doesn’t take this lightly and it’s an unfortunate situation but they are starting to explore the options and have to still provide teachers and education at reduced funding. He stated he wished it wasn’t such a cold hearted way of saying things but that’s the challenge the board is up against. Belcher asked that in tabling the items there be a purpose to address things and weigh other options to address shortfalls – not just drag out the process if it’s going to happen anyway because that could affect a teacher’s ability to file for employment and things like that. He suggested perhaps setting up a special meeting as the board doesn’t meet next until July 7th.

Superintendent Wayne Roedel commented that the staff reductions, although budgetary related, has a lot more to do with simply the number of kids who are enrolled right now in each grade level. He stated there are parameters out there that the bargaining unit for teachers has agreed to that sets limits for class size at different levels. Roedel clarified that the reductions all fall within all of the contractual limits and guidelines in place. Roedel stated that a certain percentage of the student population might not be ready to return for various medical reasons or could have compromised family members. He said the district is planning for a robust online experience in case the state issues any mandates to limit the number of students in a building – then they can go to some type of hybrid situation with face-to-face and online learning. Roedel said he doesn’t know exactly what that will look like but it’s part of the planning process that makes this summer so difficult because they don’t know what’s coming.

Fowlerville Education Association President Carrie DeLuca commended Roedel, saying they’ve had a lot of communication over the past week after lay-off notices went out. She said Roedel took a lot of time to meet with various employees who wanted to talk and appeal their scores on the rubric and she appreciated him taking the time to look into things further. DeLuca commented the brick and mortar of schools is teachers and it’s a difficult time in the state so she hopes they look at what’s going on and hopefully funding will come through from the state. She stated she is asking the board and Roedel if they could possibly look at buy-outs for teachers on the other end of their careers to help with the budget. DeLuca stressed she didn’t have any insider information but other districts have offered buy-outs for people looking to retire and that could possibly allow Fowlerville to keep some of the newer teachers.

Roedel said a lot more discussion will be taking place in the next month and half to two months to see where the state Legislature falls on any per-pupil reduction. He noted the district has budgeted for a loss of $650 per student – which equates to about $2.7 (m) million in lost revenue that must be accounted for. Roedel said the board will be having more conversations on how to close the gap with the budget shortfall, which is already pretty lean.