Jan. 19 2011 12:00 AM

‘We’re at a point where we’ve run out of options’

Wednesday, Jan. 19 — Lansing School District Superintendent T.C. Wallace says 2011 could be one of the toughest years yet for the district, citing staff layoffs, budget cuts and facility closings.

In an interview on “City Pulse on the Air,” Wallace said the schools’ $15 million budget deficit in 2011, which has grown steadily worse since 2007, presents serious and fundamental challenges.

Wallace said up until this point, the district has been “somewhat successful” in telling parents that essential services like maintaining staff and buildings will stay.

“I can no longer say that. Now we’re cutting into the very fabric of why we exist,” he said. “We’re at a point where we’ve run out of options.”

Wallace added that closing one school saves the district only about $250,000.

“We can’t close enough schools to make a dent in the $15 million deficit. That means people,” Wallace said, adding that 80 percent of the district’s budget is personnel. “If you make that kind of adjustment, you’re looking at people perhaps being laid off.”

Wallace also said the state Legislature can be a big help — or a huge burden if it decides to cut back in public school aid.

“That would be an absolute disaster,” Wallace said.

With Lansing voters approving a five-year, $21 million millage for school improvements in November, Wallace said he is optimistic those same voters can be counted on again in the future.

Despite growing budget concerns, Wallace said that’s no reason to expect less from students.

“We are not going to allow a lack of funding to negatively impact what happens in classrooms. Our achievement continues to escalate,” he said. “In no way are we where we need to be or where we want to be but we’re making progress.”

And that doesn’t necessarily mean preparing students to continue onto a two-year or four-year college program.

“We have to do a better job of preparing our young people to be successful in a variety of ways,” he said.

While Wallace said that is “the desire,” state requirements are standing in the way of creativity. For instance, a high school freshman may have four course requirements in one year, leaving just one credit to pursue something of his own interest.

“(The state) is so restrictive it stifles creativity. That’s problematic,” he said.

However, Wallace is optimistic about Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed idea for a fiscal two-year budget. The single-year budget has meant Lansing schools are receiving state aid six or seven months after it was intended to get to schools, he said, because the Legislature quarrels over how to balance the state budget. Missed budget deadlines mean delays in funding.

“It would be very positive for public schools,” he said.