MENOMINEE - Financially speaking, the past few years don't rank among the Menominee Area Public School District's best. Times have been tough of late, and in order to offset school budget deficits (which are illegal under Michigan law) the district's administrators and board of education have been forced to make some tough business decisions.

Fortunately, after an especially rough couple of years, the MAPS doom-and-gloom budget situation is showing signs of breaking in a positive direction. 

During Thursday's MAPS budget hearing and after the board of education meeting that followed, one of Menominee's long-time superintendents, and recent interim superintendent, Randy Neelis, delivered a guarded, but optimistic, prognosis of the district's financial situation.

"Some years things go badly - I think last year might be a good example of that; this year things went well - very well," Neelis opined during the budget hearing. 

"We had a pretty good year. We're definitely heading in the right direction - I didn't think we'd be here eight months ago," Neelis explained.

After the meeting, Neelis, who put together this year's budget as interim superintendent, elaborated on the district's positive developments moving forward.

"They spent $800,000 more than we took in a year ago and that set them back in a big way and eliminated the fund balance - it put them in the hole by $129,000 - so that's where we started out here," he said.

"The first budget that I prepared in October was minus $668,000 but a number of things happened in a positive way this year; some are one-time things, some are additional money from the state, some are reductions in expenditures - there's a whole lot of things that took place, mainly positive, that have reduced that negative situation from $683,000 down to $205,000 - so it's an improvement of $478,000.

"There's a big shopping list of positives that took place this year. You know, it was irregular, but it was needed, and it's put the district back in more of a positive position. They're still in the hole, as far as the budget's concerned, but far less than they thought, and I think, not this year, but next year, they could show a positive fund balance," Neelis explained.

He noted that there were still some things that needed to take place before the books balance - namely staff concessions - but they have to take place if the district is going to get its finances in order.

"To get in a positive position there's gotta be some biting the bullet - right or wrong, that's the way it is, unfortunately. Now, I don't think the biting the bullet is going to be as bad as anticipated, but it's still gotta happen," Neelis said.

As early as today, Neelis said he would be submitting this year's approved budget and next year's proposed budget to the state as part of the district's state-managed Deficit Elimination Plan. 

"They're going to be happy with us down there (in Lansing); I mean, no, they're not happy - but they're going to say 'hey, you're in the right direction,'" Neelis explained. "They want us to show no negative (deficit), but we're getting through it a lot quicker than I thought we would."

In other news, it was learned at Thursday's meeting that the district will have some personnel deficits it needs to address prior to the 2013-14 school year.

Most notable among the losses of five key MAPS employees - Menominee High School principal Anders Hill.

The board reluctantly accepted Hill's resignation Thursday night. Menominee's well-liked HS principal recently accepted a position as an elementary principal in the Houghton, Mich., School District.

"He (Hill) is going to be a definite loss to the district, and Houghton is going to be very fortunate to get you," board president Ken Pulver said to Hill.

"If you get there and change your mind, let us know," board member Carrie Mackey told Hill.

Hill, who attended the meeting, expressed his gratitude for the opportunity he was given to work as an administrator in the district.
"I feel like I've learned so much in Menominee - it's been an outstanding place - and our family leaves definitely with a heavy heart. It was a tough decision, and I will definitely always be looking with an eye towards Menominee," Hill said.

In addition to Hill, MAPS will also need to replace: Second-grade teacher Stephanie Anderson, who accepted a teaching position in the Marinette School District; assistant HS/Jr. HS principal Jamie Schomer, who will return to teaching and serving as assistant coach of the Menominee varsity football team; maintenance man Tom Berden, who worked for the school system for 27 1/2 years; and long-time Blesch Intermediate School kitchen helper Luise Olson.