Saline freezes school board spending after 1 trustee spends $1,015
Editor's note: This story has been updated to show Board President Lisa Slawson's initial reason for the spending freeze was to extend an olive branch to unions.
Saline Area Schools Board of Education is freezing all discretionary spending for board members until further notice.
President Lisa Slawson said the board repeatedly has asked union members to make concessions and she thought it was time the board shared in the sacrifice.
Slawson brought forward the initiative after learning newly elected Trustee David Zimmer had completed nine MASB courses — one in-person training class at a cost of $180 and eight online classes at $95 apiece — since taking office in January, for a total of $940.
Zimmer also enrolled in one course for which he incurred a $25 cancellation fee due to an inability to attend. He had two additional courses scheduled for June 2 and June 16 that will need to be canceled as well, bringing his total MASB-related spending to $1,015.
In comparison, trustees Todd Carter, Amy Cattell and David Holden took one course each since January, for a total cost of $95. Cattell received a complimentary voucher for her course and Holden reimbursed Saline for his.
"That's not what I am here for," Holden said. "I am here to serve the community. ... I'm happy to do it."
Slawson said Zimmer’s MASB courses account for about one-third of what the board as a whole has spent to date this fiscal year.
“What I am wondering is how did this happen?” Cattell asked Zimmer. “This is fiscally responsible? This has never happened before.”
With the courses, Zimmer joins Slawson and Vice President Chuck Lesch as a MASB-certified board member.
Zimmer said in February, the board made a decision to become a board of merit and to have every trustee certified through the MASB in 2012. He said in response to that directive, he took the required courses, giving up several nights and weekends.
Additionally, Zimmer said in a recent self-evaluation, the board identified several weaknesses, including a lack of knowledge and attention to long-term planning.
He said this is one of the "most dire times in the history of Saline Schools" and if there wasn't a sense of urgency, he would not have taken the classes so quickly. But with a deficit budget and contentious union negotiations staring the board in the face, he felt it was necessary to be educated swiftly.
"I would encourage every board member if they don't have the skills, to get them as quickly as possible to help the board," he said.
Lesch took his MASB courses throughout the tenure of his term — so that it wasn't "like trying to cram for an exam," he said. He acquired the most knowledge by serving on the board and by attending the MASB classes in person for the opportunity to interact with other school board members outside of the district, he added.
Holden said he would like more background information on the board's reimbursement practices as well as a history of the board's spending on MASB courses. Slawson said she will work to provide this information, but she could not gather it in just 27 hours, which was when Holden requested it before the meeting.
Trustee Craig Hoeft said he agrees with Slawson that Zimmer's spending was a little "unusual."
"I think it's OK for our board president to put something like this in front of us," he said, but added the board "might be working too hard at this."
Hoeft suggested bringing up spending at the next policy committee meeting to discuss drafting language that would require a board member to stop at so many MASB classes per year.
"I feel like we're all getting a little stressed about this ... when it's not that difficult," he said.