Wayne-Westland school board votes down employee layoffs, budget shortfall remains a threat

In a 7-0 decision, the school board voted to not lay off about 20 employees, including custodians, social workers and secretaries
Posted at 10:53 PM, Dec 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-21 23:26:38-05

WESTLAND, Mich. (WXYZ) — In a heated special school board meeting Thursday night, the Wayne-Westland school board voted to not lay off approximately 20 staff members just days before Christmas in a unanimous vote.

Last month, 7 Action News reported that the district budget is in a serious deficit and on the border of state takeover. A $17.6 million discrepancy was found in the budget.

A possible solution was to privatize school bus drivers, which was turned down this week. Another solution was to lay off custodians, social workers, secretaries and other staff.

"If not resolved in a timely manner, this condition may lead to the state treasurer declaring that the potential for fiscal distress exists at Wayne-Westland Community Schools district," board trustee Mark Neal said at Thursday's meeting.

It was a packed auditorium filled with a sea of red T-shirts at John Glenn High School, representing support for Michigan educators and teacher unions.

Tonya Karpinkski is the executive director of the Michigan Education Association 2-C and 2-F coordinating councils. She says the decision to consider resorting to layoffs to fix the budget was not well thought out. She says laying off staff puts blame on educators rather than the board for the district's financial woes.

"We just keep seeing these piecemeal reactions," Karpinkski sad. "They overspent their budget by 30% in one fiscal year."

The heated and, at times, unorganized meeting began with a change in leadership and a change in board presidents from David Cox to Bradley Gray.

The Wayne-Westland Community Schools board voted down laying off approximately 20 employees. (Dec. 21, 2023)
The Wayne-Westland Community Schools board voted down laying off approximately 20 employees. (Dec. 21, 2023)

The board also voted to take a take a cut from their yearly stipend to help with budget shortfalls. They considered a cut to the superintendent's yearly salary, and resorted to consulting legal council before a decision on that was made.

During public comment, current and retired educators, concerned parents and city leaders made their voices clear on their disapproval of the layoffs.

"I am asking for you to vote no to the layoffs for those people who are in the trenches, specifically those who work with mental health, the social workers," district employee Michelle Tackett said during public comment.

"The district is falling apart," Westland City Councilmember Melissa Sampey said during public comment said. "Really at this point right now, the fix is on your shoulders. We have to make tough decisions, but what I'm asking you tonight is to not proceed with the layoffs."

The board voted unanimously to not lay off staff at this time. Some board members, like Board Secretary Melandie Hines, stated that they did not have enough information to move forward with the rash decision.

“We are not clear of the fund balance, we don't have a plan, there’s no vision. I don’t feel comfortable laying people off until we have a plan in place," she said.

While educators and community members celebrated the decision, they know it is still a long road ahead for the district to fix its financial problems.

“I consider this a great start. Obviously, this is going to continue to need additional work," Karpinkski said.

Newly-elected Board President Bradley Gray says the board will recuperate to discuss other financial options for the district.

“I think we need to slow down, regroup and so that we can move forward. We’ve known about this issue for a few months now and it’s time for us to come up with a plan that is acceptable to the community, to the impacted people and, most importantly, to the impacted students that this is going to affect," Gray said.