(File photo) Vassar school board members (from left) Rob Atwood and Jon Ward are shown at a December 2019 meeting. Atwood and Ward traded thoughts at a June 23 board meeting about whether to renew the contract of the school district’s transportation supervisor/bus mechanic. Atwood favored the contract renewal, while Ward opposed it.

By a split decision, Dave Sanders retained his job as Vassar Public Schools’ transportation supervisor/bus mechanic June 23.

But he might not be the only school worker whose position is on the line in the coming weeks.

School district leaders await final numbers on projected state cuts in the amount of financial aid per pupil. The two largest sources of state money to the School Aid Fund, sales and income taxes, have fallen sharply during the economic shutdown related to COVID-19, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Around Michigan, school leaders are pondering cuts to employees and salaries, as well as transportation services. School districts are required to approve balanced budgets by July 1.

Vassar board members voted 5 to 2 to renew Sanders’ contract for one year. Rob Atwood, Jon Genow, Russ Hubbard, Jeremy LaPratt and Randy Middlin were in favor of it, while Matt Koch and Jon Ward opposed it.

Atwood, during the June 23 online board meeting, wondered what kind of safety measures the state might implement on school buses to try to combat COVID-19.

“Transportation will be interesting; who knows what the state comes in with for safety measures?” Atwood said. “Say you can only put 10 kids on a bus, or something like that.

“Transportation might be the biggest expense that we see, out of all this COVID thing.”

“And double bus runs, all those types of things,” added Vassar Superintendent Dorothy “Dot” Blackwell.

“Double runs, the possibility of more buses, and who knows how this plays out?” Atwood noted. “But transportation is the big ‘if’ for me.”

Vassar schools closed March 16 through the remainder of the school year – a period of almost three months – in accordance with an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Late last week, Ward said that from what he has learned from various sources, state leaders plan for students to return to classrooms this fall. But he questioned Vassar’s current need for a transportation director.

“Not in regards to (Sanders), but in regards to the position – my vote was more in reflection of not knowing if that’s a position that our school district should still have,” Ward said.

Ward said Vassar could “combine it with another responsibility or make it a half-time role.”

Sanders’ one-year contract was one of a number of one-year contracts approved June 23 by the board, which plans to make budget cuts considering the anticipated decline in state aid per pupil. Currently, Vassar receives $8,111 per pupil in state aid, and projects an enrollment loss equivalent to 40 full-time students in the next school year.

“Instead of (reapproving) this existing role, and then laying it off later, why don’t we let this contract expire, and kind of regroup this and figure out what it should be?” Ward said.

Vassar is considering adopting a budget with a fund surplus – or savings – equal to at least 10 percent of the expenditures in its annual budget. The district’s policy is to maintain at least that amount, according to Ward.

Nathan Baldermann of the Rehmann firm, hired by Vassar last year as temporary business services manager, offered three scenarios allowing Vassar to maintain that 10-percent level of savings in the new school fiscal year – but each involve cuts.

The “worst-case” scenario figures a decline in state aid of $700 per pupil this fiscal year, which ended Tuesday. As a result, Vassar would need to make $768,000 in needed cost reductions to keep the surplus at 10 percent of the budget in the new fiscal year.

A “middle-case” scenario assumes a smaller cut in state aid per pupil this fiscal year and also one next year, but would require $335,000 in needed cost reductions.

And a “best-case” scenario figures no state aid cut this year but a $655 cut per pupil next year, and $40,000 in needed cost reductions in Vassar.

The school board on June 23 chose a budget strategy in line with the “best-case” scenario. The board met last night to finalize the budget, but results of the meeting weren’t available as of press time. The Advertiser will update the situation in an upcoming edition.

Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com.