At that moment in the Board meetings where they recognize accomplishments and good deeds done, they ought to have a special moment for the voters of Wayne County.

But for the approval of the Wayne County Enhancement Millage (WCEM), fund equity would be drop to about $1.7 million (or less than 2% of expenditures) by the end of the 2018 budget cycle. Instead, the annual yield of the WCEM (about $2.6 million) will be thrown into the General Fund budget, essentially allowing the district to run just above a break-even budget for the 2016-17 school year and a roughly $1.6 million surplus next year.

This is the expected result despite significant cuts in teaching staff. In the 2015-16 school year, the district employed 538 teachers. For this (just concluded) school year that number was reduced by 10 and next year teaching staff will be cut by nearly another 20. That is a 5.4% reduction in teaching staff in a two year period.

Yes, you’re right. We need to right-size staff as the district continues to be plagued by declining enrollment, but in this same two-year window, enrollment is down about 200 students – or about 2.6%, meaning the rate of teacher jobs cuts are more than double the rate of enrollment declines. I’ve hit that dynamic pretty hard in past posts and recommend this one that cross references Farmington Hills’ travails to the GPPSS’. This one is also helpful on the topic.

For a little closer look at the problem in the GPPSS we can inspect the proposed 2017-18 budget. It projects a loss of another 100 students (mainly due to graduating classes flowing out at higher rates than incoming classes) and cutting nearly 20 teaching jobs. The enrollment loss drives out about $1 million in revenue. The staff reductions (~ 20) drive down direct compensation costs by about $1.5 million, but indirect compensation (healthcare, retirement) will increase by about $600,000 for a net change in total compensation of about $900,000 (lower).

Simple, right? Lose a million, cut a million. The math works, but does the service model work when teaching jobs are cut at twice the rate of enrollment loss? Something will give. Class sizes will increase and/or fewer courses that are smaller (think extra foreign languages, that singleton AP class) will not run.

It will not yield the experience GPPSS parents will want or expect, especially since now taxpayers are shelling out an additional $5 million per year to yield our WCEM’s $2.6 million – a bad deal for taxpayers for sure, but without it, the district would be caught flat-footed and almost broke.

The story lines tonight center on a couple themes. First, the district really misplayed budget handling for this (2016-17, current) year. They missed on enrollment projections by about 70 students and otherwise budget projections were just too far off. I wrote back in January that the current budget didn’t add up and it is only just now they are formally recognizing the budget projection misses. A lot more discipline is needed there because once April window passes, very little can be done to really affect the next year’s budget.

Of course the other big story line is enrollment. Perhaps the district has engaged in a formal study, but knowing the expected enrollment trends over a five year window is absolutely critical at this point. The staff cuts exceeding enrollment loss may be sustainable for a short period (2-3 years?) but not much longer. Something more dramatic will have to give (salary reductions, school closings, outsourcing, six period HS day headline the trick bag).

Then there is the consumption of the WCEM to plug the General Fund structural deficit, the main takeaway of which is this erodes the option to use it for building or tech projects about which the district raised so much publicity over the last 2-3 years. Not a great time to be thinking of another bond, but who knows.

And, oh by the way, the current employee contracts expire in a few weeks – and no budget decision is bigger than those.

We’ll check in again here when the audit comes in… and let’s hope for no unpleasant surprises there.