Speer: Millage aftereffects are numerous

It didn’t take long for the effects of the failed education millage last month to begin showing across the region.

In Alcona County this week the board of education agreed to extend its contract with teachers for another three years. The contract contains no pay raises for teachers, and Superintendent Shawn Thornton said district teachers also agreed to freeze merit increases for things like attaining more education.

A teacher who participated in the negotiations with district officials, Dorene Schick, said teachers had little choice, as pay cuts and layoffs would have been a worse option.

“If we didn’t take the step freeze, that would mean cutting another teacher that we’d need in our ranks,” Schick said in a newspaper story Tuesday.

Not so fortunate will be three staffers at the Boys & Girls Club of Alpena, who April 1 will be laid off when the club’s outreach units at Thunder Bay Junior High and Alpena High School close.

A lack of federal, state and local funding led to the decision to close. Executive Director Susan Nielsen said at one point it was hoped that if the school millage had passed, perhaps Alpena Public Schools would have been able to continue supporting the programs, but obviously that was not the case.

Nielsen, who applied for every grant imaginable, and seemingly then some, said strictly from a business perspective, the programs should have been eliminated last year, but the board wanted to pursue every angle, every opportunity and every avenue to find the funds to try and remain open. While the school millage wasn’t the final blow, its failure did make it painfully clear to Boys & Girls Club officials that there would be no knight on a white horse galloping forward with funds from Alpena Public Schools.

Meanwhile, APS officials were wrestling with their own issues caused by the millage. Superintendent Brent Holcomb was recognized by board members this week for outstanding leadership over the past year. In his annual evaluation, he was given the highest marks possible in the board’s scoring system.

Holcomb received praise from board members for being a strong, fair and compassionate leader through tough situations and trying times.

Yet, when it came time to renew Holcomb’s contract, the painful reality of what the district faces hit home when the board renewed his contract for one year, but with a 10 percent reduction in pay.

The board’s thanks gives new meaning to sweet and sour.

Holcomb I’m sure understood exactly what needed done, and that the board had no other choice.

It is the painful reality of the new post-millage era.

The same is true for us. Each of us needs to understand the ramifications and repercussions as well.

No one said it would be easy.

Until change comes in the way of educational funding reform from Lansing, it only will get worse, not better.