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Hillman schools slammed for staff layoffs proposal

HILLMAN — A number of people on Monday criticized the Hillman Community Schools Board of Education as the board prepares to approve about $276,533 in cuts, including a proposed 10 layoffs, to balance its budget for the 2019-20 school year.

The district is projecting a $464,528 shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1, and hopes the layoffs and other cuts can shrink that number.

But parents and staffers criticized the district’s cost-savings plan.

Laurie Nugent, the district’s academic support adviser, is one of the employees facing layoff. During public comment at the Hillman school board meeting Monday, she said she helps students with dual enrollment, facilitate online classes and compiles the district’s master schedule, student transcripts and audits, among other duties.

The district is hiring a career navigator to expose students to opportunities in the workforce thanks to a state grant Hillman and other nearby districts were awarded in December. That will save the district approximately $31,684, but Nugent said there are only three things on her list of duties that the grant-funded position would be allowed to handle.

The district had six students last school year take classes at Alpena High School’s Career and Technical Education program and Nugent worked to increase that to 27 students for the 2019-20 school year. She said she thinks she sabotaged her position by recruiting that many students.

A few people in attendance backed Nugent and expressed how important her position is to the district and to the students.

Parent Roxanne LaFleche said Nugent has helped students stay on track and made sure they have the requirements to graduate. She said it’s scary to think that kids could fall through the cracks if the position is eliminated.

“I think eliminating the position is a horrible idea,” LaFleche said. “I think it’s sad that everyone loses jobs, but, at the end of the day, education is the main goal and we’re trying from kindergarten to get these kids to graduate. That’s our goal and we get rid of the one person who every single day makes sure that these kids are doing what they’re supposed to do (and) they have the requirements.”

Eliminating Nugent’s position would save the district approximately $71,032.

Teacher Bill Dever said the district tries to teach students to go out, make good choices, and then come back to Hillman. He also said district employees can’t be replaced by robots and computer programs.

“Hillman’s on the map and I’m proud to be here, but we can’t be replaced,” Dever said. “Fight for it, I’m on your side, let’s have the attitude (that) people can make a difference.”

Jean Manning, president of the union for support staff, told the board on Monday that the staff in Hillman work for the kids and that the students will suffer without support staff.

Superintendent Carl Seiter said after Monday’s meeting that he and the board will take under consideration what was said during public comment.

“The board is the one that’s going to have to act on whatever I present to them,” Seiter said. “If they say, ‘Absolutely, we’re not going to do it,’ then we’re not going to do it. We’ll have to come up with some other alternative. The whole process is very, very difficult, but if we don’t act right now, it will be far worse next year.”

The board is holding a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to make decisions about support staff positions. The district has to provide 45 days’ notice to support staff on any layoffs to align with a union contract.