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UCS to Keep 7th and 8th Fall Athletics, but Cut Winter and Spring

The Utica Community School Board has asked the community to find a way to pay for the district's winter and spring programs.

Seventh- and eighth-grade Utica Community School children will play fall sports, but the winter and spring sports programs were cut from the 2011-12 school year budget.

“We aren’t eliminating fall sports,” said UCS Board of Trustee Carl Territo.  “We’re giving you an opportunity to continue should a plan be worked out to find the funding.”

Nearly a dozen emotionally charged parents and coaches spoke to the board and proposed alternative funding plans from pay-to-play, independent fundraising and raising concession stand prices at athletic events to offset the cost.

“Let’s be creative and find a way to save it,” said UCS parent Lisa Studzinski. “Let’s work through this and find an avenue.”

Assistant School Board Superintendent Robert Van Camp will head up a committee made up of parents to come up with ideas to raise the funds to save the winter and spring athletic programs. A volunteer sign-up sheet was passed around after the meeting, and about 40 parents had already signed up to be a part of the solution.

“You have underestimated the community and families for what they will do to save our programs,” said Kelly Kubick, a parent of six.

The community will have to come up with more than $230,000 to fund the winter and spring sports. The fall sports that were spared for the year are football, volleyball and cheerleading. Even though cheerleading is a club, there are coaching fees involved, the district said.

The district would have saved a net total of $522,700 had it cut the entire seventh- and eighth-grade athletics program, which was the original recommendation to the board.

Many parents were irate with the idea of cutting the entire program and more than an hour-and-a-half of public comment was heard. One mother began to cry while commenting on the cuts and another father, David Weaver, left a roll of toilet paper at the podium stating that the cuts were too extreme and he wouldn’t be surprised if the board starts asking parents to pay for the district’s toilet paper.

Some parents suggested that the district will shrink because athletes will begin to look for schools of choice that offer junior high school sports.

“What will these cuts do to the high school sports?” asked UCS parent Susan Megee. “They will not have the skills you need to excel. You could kiss the whole UCS School athletics goodbye if this passes.”

One parent told Patch that the meeting would have gone smoother had the board told parents from the beginning that it was considering keeping seventh- and eighth-grade fall sports.

There are more than 2,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students involved in UCS’s athletics programs.

“I am not happy with it,” said Ken Krolczk, who will be seated on the school board in July. “I would have voted another way. I feel like once you do something you don’t get it back, but it is better than cutting it totally. Hopefully we can reinstate it.”

Board Warns of Future Funding Woes if Drastic Measures Are Not Taken

The school board repeatedly said they have made all the easy cuts to the budget, but now it's time to make the really difficult cuts. If the board doesn’t continue to make cuts to balance a deficit created from the state’s school funding budget, the district could be in jeopardy of a state takeover next year, according to a financial report presented at the meeting.

“When I presented last year’s budget, I warned of major cuts,” said UCS Superintendent Christine Johns. “The school aid package that was adopted is far beyond anyone’s imagination.”

In the past six years, UCS has cut more than $100 million from its budget, by shuttering four elementary schools, laying off nearly 700 teachers, implementing furlough day and wage freezes, reducing band and athletic offerings and expanding schools of choice. And the cuts don’t stop there.

A decision Monday night to ratify the district’s transportation union’s contracts saved the district another $4 million. The new contract for the 250 members includes cutting life insurance and long-term disability and a 3 percent pay cut.

“Thanks to the transportation unit for the tremendous sacrifices,” said Trustee Gene Klida. “This is a life-changing sacrifice that will alter the way their households operate.”

Deana Felosak, who has been with the transportation department for more than 30 years, said she will continue to do her job with a smile on her face.

“We love the kids and we will still do our job. We have pride,” she said.

UCS started the 2011-12 school year off with $245 million in revenue and $280 million in expenditures, leaving a $36 million gap. Through a series of reductions, UCS Representative Tim McAvoy said, the district has projected to narrow the current $10 million debt to zero by the end of the financial year, which ends in July.

Nancy Smith June 14, 2011 at 11:17 AM
It's very troubling and extremely frustrating to learn of another significant "cut" to the programs currently offered to our UCS students. I think it's great that so many parents are willing and eager to take on the task of finding fundraising ideas to save the winter and spring sports. To the credit of the UCS Board, they have been ringing the alarm bell for several years about the pending budget cuts due to lack of funding from the state. I hope everyone contacts their legislatures!
Jackie June 14, 2011 at 11:56 AM
Would love to see Christine Johns lead the way in some sacrificing. Isn't Kentucky calling?
Dennis June 14, 2011 at 12:21 PM
I thought football was the premiere fall sport? Sooo... what sport(s) were saved? God bless Ms. Felosak's attitude. Now... why do they continue to force the lower-paid workers to take cuts? Custodians... bus drivers... when are the "$100,000+ Club" members going to do something substantial? Three percent is merely a token cut these days. Automotive has routinely taken 10% cuts, some to 30% and beyond. Now THAT is life-changing, and sacrifice. Can you imagine all the good you could do with just a 6% cut across the entire board? Let's see some REAL effort by the "protected" people in our system!
trixiep53 June 14, 2011 at 01:45 PM
The way the school board went about this cut, was very sneaky! There was no communication to the parents of the community that this could be a reality. The only way they found out was because the information was "leaked." The community was never give a chance to discuss with the board what could be done in order to save junior high sports. Their budget cut wasn't just "proposed" last night, it was SET and they knew exactly how they would vote last night. They should all be ashamed of how it played out. They are a poor example of how an elected school board should run. This should have been a community decision, and the community was essentially ignored despite their loud and very clear objections. We are slowly watching the demise of what was once an elite school district. The parents were emotional and intelligent in their suggestions for what could be done to help fix the problem, the thoughts and ideas of an entire community are better than the thoughtlessness of the school board. Shame on them!!!!
tina June 14, 2011 at 02:00 PM
The cuts need to start at the top with Christine Johns, which oh by the way makes more than $200,000 a yr in salary & benefits. This is also more than the governor of the state of Michigan makes. Hmmmm. Johns is the HIGHEST PAID superintendent in MICHIGAN. She needs to make the sacrific just like our students will. I did not vote for any of the current school board members at the last election in an effort to guarantee that Johns would not keep getting outrageous bonuses like last yr of $60,000 yr. That was UNBELIEVABLE that we as taxpayers allow this nonsense when school teachers, custodians, other staff took a hard hit last yr & this yr AGAIN. Johns needs to GO! We cannot afford to sacrifice our children because Johns is overpaid - the fat needs to be cut. Our high standards for UCS are deteriorating & suffering because of her selfishness.
Dennis June 14, 2011 at 02:51 PM
According to the document, she makes over $280,000 in salary, supplemental, and mandatory retirement, NOT including all the other benefits and outrageous perks. If she leaves, I'll gladly take her position for far less than half her cost. One question: why are we forced to make cuts like these, when other districts in our same socio-economic situation are not??
Jeff June 14, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Sounds like Johns needs to be held accountable. What happens when managers can not manage or budget? They get fired...do the right thing and step down Johns
UCS Watchdog June 14, 2011 at 05:42 PM
I hate the way the UCS Board operates. They treat the community with contempt - they could care less when board meetings are packed with concerned parents who have good ideas. Since they are so much smarter and well-educated than the rest of us, they feel its beneath them to solicit the opinion of those they are supposedly there to "serve". Look at the "leadership" situation right now in the district. You have the carpet-bagger who the Board hired - who got her five years in and already had her eye on her next job the day she started here. She has done a good job of running tons of talent out the door with her dictatorial management style. All that are left are mainly yes-men and people she runs ragged. The few good ones left just keep their mouth shut and hope to make it to retirement. I also have heard from a good source that even though the district has "pay to play" in place, they have done an extremely poor job of collecting the funds. Since she has resisted many other outside-the-box ideas on how the district could generate funds, I wouldnt be surprised if that were true.
Upset Mom June 14, 2011 at 06:11 PM
trixiep53 is so right. . . and UCS watchdog . . . LUV IT! They are always very sneaky when it comes to some of the things that a so called "vote" is being brought up for a meeting and say it was already mentioned before. It seems like this how they handle most of the things they have already decided to cut. They let us vent at meetings but they still make the cuts without letting the parent groups or volunteers find alternatives because they wait til the last minute to let everyone know about the "vote". Back when I was in Junior High the coaches were not paid and they were ususally teacher or parent volunteers that would run the program. We as a team were responsible to fundraise for our own uniforms, camps, etc. Dr. Johns is fighting for the job in Kentucky anyways so why would she care . . .
Cindy June 14, 2011 at 07:33 PM
They are going to cut junior high sports and then we will lose even more money when parents begin sending their kids to school districts that do offer the sports!! Can't the board think beyond the budget cuts and look ahead to the reprecussions from their decisions!! We all realize that district needs to make cuts but with fundraising and charging more per player it can be done!! And as far as Christine Johns....GOOD RIDDANCE!!!! If she doesn't get that KY job, I hope she leaves anyways!!
Dennis June 14, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Im sure she's a shoo-in for the new position... just look at the KY job she did to us!!
Dennis Szumanski Jr. June 15, 2011 at 01:40 AM
280,000 a year wtf! Are you serious? This is a scandal. She needs to get voted out. Why did she get elected? Thats enough to support the sports program that is being cut.
Jackie June 15, 2011 at 01:53 AM
She didn't get voted in. She got appointed by the school board.
Nancy Smith June 15, 2011 at 01:59 AM
Seriously...why don't one of you run for a position on the UCS School Bd. of Education?
Jackie June 15, 2011 at 02:19 AM
Honestly, I didn't know that in order to get my voice heard, I had to be on the board. However, you'll notice that the tide is turning and the incumbents got a slap in the face last election. The biggest problems are not the board, but are higher up than that. A quarter of a million dollars a year is ridiculous. And contacting my "legislatures" won't improve that.
Nancy Smith June 15, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Not sure what you mean "by the tide is turning?" Fact is....the money is not there to fund the programs that have been in place. What would you recommend that the UCS Bd. of Ed. cuts? Either the UCS Bd. of Ed. balances the budget or a Financial Manager appointed by that state will make it happen. That individual will have no allegiance to our UCS community.
Jackie June 15, 2011 at 02:33 AM
And you think that Christine Johns does? She came in and pumped up her resume by adding AP classes, insisting that college is the best choice for every student and dumping the fine arts. As to where the board should cut, Dr. Johns salary and perks is an excellent starting spot. For years the UCS board incumbents were given carte blanche by the electorate, virtually guaranteed reelection. People are tired of the behind-the-scenes shennanigans and are ready to hold the board accountable.
Nancy Smith June 15, 2011 at 02:41 AM
So what do you propose to do? School board nominations and elections are over for a few years.
Jackie June 15, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Pulling my kids out of UCS. There are a lot of other options out there. Homeschooling, schools of choice, private school: any of those are places where my opinion will matter.
Margaret June 15, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Demand John's contract is destroyed and initate a recall for the president of the board of education- who by the way is ALSO the superintendent of Madison Public Schools!!!!!!!!! F-Y-I Oh-Johns did not get the job, Jefferson County went with the other candidate! No invested interest-no integrity!
Dennis June 15, 2011 at 03:29 AM
Tell you what... vote me in to her job with her current contract, and I'll give the sports programs $150,000, and run the position with as much transparency as possible. When do I start?
Jackie June 15, 2011 at 08:03 AM
Darn!
Sheri July 01, 2011 at 02:06 PM
The school board had their mind made up before they even went in to that meeting. They just let the parents "vent" to make it seem official. How disappointing for all our kids who will be jipped out of the high school sports because they won't be able to compete. Unless you are rich and can pay $3000 a year to put your kid on a travel league, you're out of luck as most of the rec leagues end with 6th grade. They will lose $7000/per student when we all take our kids to another district.

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