Flint, MI—The Flint Schools Board of Education has passed the budget for the next fiscal year. The approved budget predicts a roughly $533,000 operational deficit.

At a Flint Community Schools (FCS) meeting on Wednesday, June 14, the Board unanimously approved the initial budget for the 2023 to 2024 fiscal year (FY) and the final FY 2022-2023 budget.

The district projects an operational deficit of $533,051 for the next fiscal year, but school officials say that number would have been much higher if it weren’t for Flint Schools’ COVID-19 funds, also known as ESSER.

Therefore, officials explained, planning for after the district’s ESSER funds are spent and filling administrative vacancies are among the key steps to ensure Flint Schools will be financially solvent in the future.

“We have a lot of work to do when it comes to ensuring that we have key leadership in place and that we are proactive in how we address our structural budget deficit over the next couple years,” Dylan Luna, the Board treasurer, said in an interview.

Staff Vacancies 

Since April, the former assistant superintendent and heads of finance, human resources (HR) and academics have all resigned. 

The Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) subsequently began providing part-time support in the head of finance position, but that support is being phased back given that an interim head of finance has stepped in, according to Steven Tunnicliff, the GISD superintendent.

However, more long-term assistance is available through GISD’s Shared Business Services. That support would involve a contractual arrangement for purchased services from the intermediate school district, GISD officials told the Board on Wednesday. 

Brian Jones, the Flint Schools interim executive director of finance, said a contract for GISD services would offer some “continuity” in the district’s business and HR offices. That’s critical to helping the Board make informed decisions, he explained.

“You’re going to need to have that continuity so that you can have consistent information that will enable the Board to make decisions that will keep the district financially and educationally viable,” the interim finance director told the Board.

According to FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones, it’s been challenging to find qualified candidates for the heads of finance and HR positions. That’s also the case for the vacant controller position in the district’s business office. 

“I’ll be honest, right now we don’t have a lot of candidates, based on the previous situations and culture that people have seen over YouTube, on the news and other places, that want to come and work for an unstable district,” the superintendent told Flint Beat. “We are trying to become stable. We are not stable at the moment.” 

On Wednesday, the Board voted unanimously for the administration to begin talks with GISD about shared business and HR services.

Meanwhile, Flint Schools is finalizing a new hire for the head of academics position, Superintendent Jones said. Instead of filling the assistant superintendent position, he added that the district is currently seeking a director of state and federal programs as part of its reorganization.

Teachers’ compensation 

Beyond administrative vacancies, the teachers’ union, United Teachers of Flint (UTF), has raised concerns about the shortage of teachers in the district and argued that restoring teachers’ wages would help recruit and retain teachers for FCS.

Under the union’s 2022 to 2025 bargaining agreement, the starting rate for a teacher with a bachelor degree is $38,000. But freezes in step advancements, or increase in pay that’s commensurate with teachers’ years of service, were put in place roughly a decade ago for Flint Schools’ teachers, according to UTF officials.

Even though teachers will move forward a step in the 2023 to 2024 academic year and another in the 2024 to 2025 school year, UTF officials say that doesn’t go far enough to bring back the wages that truly reflect teachers’ years of service.

In response to UTF’s lobbying, the Board voted to set aside $1.5 million from the FY 2022-2023 general fund for teachers’ compensation in May 2023. However, it did so without a plan for distributing that funding.

Following the decision, the Board’s bargaining team requires direction as to how to handle the money, said Timothy Gardner of Thrun Law Firm in a memo to the Board dated June 14.

At a subsequent June 22 meeting, the Board voted unanimously to allow the bargaining team to discuss the use of the $1.5 million with UTF.

COVID relief funds

When it comes to things like salary, benefits, services and maintenance, ESSER dollars have been a critical source of funding to reimburse Flint Schools expenses.

But once the funds are all spent, the district’s interim director of finance Brian Jones previously told the Board that “without careful adjustments,” the district could face a “financial cliff.” 

Flint Schools has until Sept. 30, 2024 to spend its third and final round of ESSER funds, or ESSER III. The district’s installment of ESSER III amounts to over $99 million.

“What I’m thinking about currently and what I’ve been thinking about since [I was] elected is, ‘What would this district look like without ESSER III?,'” Trustee Terae King Jr. said in an interview. “Once ESSER III runs out … we’re going in the red if we don’t be conservative with our funds.”

At the moment, King said the district has not done enough to reduce its operational costs.

“We got this cushion now,” he said of ESSER, “but what are we going to do to take steps to ensure we have a lesser fall?”

King said a 5-to-10-year plan that’s in the works for FCS will help the district prepare for the future.

That plan will include options to reduce the district’s number of school buildings, a move that officials have argued could lower Flint Schools’ operational expenses.

Jones also told Board members that a deeper dive into things like the district’s programs and staffing will be needed to paint a better picture of necessary steps once ESSER funding runs out.

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...