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Chelsea Board of Education approves budgets, School of Choice numbers

By Crystal Hayduk

The Chelsea School District Board of Education approved both the 2019-20 final amended budget and the 2020-21 preliminary budget at its virtual board meeting on June 29.

During the short budget hearing in advance of the regular meeting, Michelle Cowhy, assistant superintendent of finance and administrative services, reviewed the highlights of the extensive budget presentation of June 22.

The 2019-20 amended budget ended on June 30 with a fund balance of a little more than $5.9 million, or 20.25 percent of the budget. “We’re in better shape than we had predicted due to [initial] COVID-19-related reduction in expenses, such as transportation, lack of overtime, and other things we’ve already discussed.”

However, because of the anticipated significant drop in foundation allowance and probable reduction in student count for 2020-21, Cowhy said the district’s preliminary budget is “not in as pretty shape as we ended in.” 

She estimates the total fund balance will be just over $3.3 million on June 30, 2021, or 11.41 percent of the budget. (Related story here.)

The board also approved the 2020 tax rate request of 7 mills, along with 18 mills for non-homestead properties. Superintendent Julie Helber said the non-homestead tax expires in December and voters will see a request for its renewal on the November ballot.

The board approved the application to borrow funds through the Michigan Finance Authority State Aid Note Loan Program. The district will request $3.7 million at a maximum of 1.85-percent interest to maintain cash flow during the lean months of September through January when bills need to be paid but tax revenue has not yet been received.

This action was recommended by the district’s attorneys in the event that the state prorates 2019-20 funding, which is still a possibility. The application is due July 2, but the dollar amount requested can be adjusted until the middle of July if information changes before then.   

At Helber’s request in anticipation of reduced student count, the board approved accepting all 34 applicants for 2020-21 School of Choice (SOC) in a six to one vote, with Tammy Lehman dissenting. This number is higher than the previously approved cap of 25 students, but the expansion is limited to one-year only.

Helber said some of the applicants are already current students in the district—children of employees wishing to secure a place regardless of the parent’s future employment status.

During the opportunity for public input, parent Priya King addressed the board. Her statement in its entirety is as follows:

“I want to thank Dr. Julie Helber and Marcus Kaemming for reaching out to us during this exceedingly difficult time of our lives.

“I stand before you with a heavy heart. I am Priya King. This past Thursday’s event has brought light to the situations my children have faced in the schools at the ugly face of racism.

“Let me start by saying that Chelsea School District is an exemplary school district. There have been many who have helped with the educational, social and emotional needs of my three children throughout the years. Despite so much good the school district still has work do to in race relations.

“There have been several instances where my children witnessed firsthand derogatory language. Much to our dismay, the instances have concluded with no action taken toward the perpetrator, because it is a ‘he said, she said’ situation. The perpetrator is free to continue their racist behavior.

“There needs to be accountability for such ugly behavior.

“My children deserve to go to school where they feel safe and good about themselves.

“I am confident that with mindfulness we can come up with an exemplary way to handle racism within our schools.”       

In other board news:

The board approved the letter of agreement to freeze the superintendent’s pay for the 2020-21 school year. Board President Shawn Quilter motioned for suspension of pay ($25/meeting) for board members for one year; it was unanimously approved.

The board gave Helber authority to enter into a county consortium to apply for a USDA grant to help fund distance learning and telehealth for rural communities.   

The district has released their Return to Learn Framework, written in collaboration with a number of governmental, education, and health groups. Helber said the framework will be revised as new information becomes available. The infographic can be viewed at https://drive.google.com/file/d/14DjHeIB2XKD-dyVrPZlf-oyzAom_2yly/view.

Upcoming date:

The board will conduct a work session at 6:30 p.m. on July 13, location details to be released later.

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