WESTLAND, Mich. (FOX 2) - Close to 40 employees at the Wayne-Westland School District received pink slips Friday as the board sought to reduce its staff after falling into a massive financial hole.
Recently-discovered budget discrepancies revealed the district had overspent by a whopping $28 million. Now, teachers, custodians, and hall monitors will lose their jobs as the school board reconciles with what one education official calls "reckless, gross overspending."
"I believe it's historic," said Tonya Karpinski, with the Michigan Education Association.
"Literally had people crying, doncerned about ‘do they need to bring their Christmas presents back.' Because are they now going to need that money to pay for another month of heat or groceries or rent?" she asked.
The cuts will take effect in January.
The district said it was reducing its staff by 39 employees and reclassifying some staff salaries after reviewing both student enrollment incoming revenue and outgoing expenses.
"We have been able to identify areas where change can occur without impacting the essential educational services being provided to our students and families. As a result, Wayne-Westland Community Schools notified individuals of layoffs and restructuring in this effort to begin to right-size the district," said the statement.
In early November, the district sent a letter to parents about "budget discrepancies" that were found during an audit. Signed by Superintendent John Dignan, he wrote the concerns were not "an issue of deliberate miscalculations or misconduct. With the complexity of today's budgets, which are made even more complex by the influx of various COVID funds, the discrepancies occurred within the budgeting processes rather than from actual transactions."
The assistant superintendent of business and fiances was tasked with investigating the issues.
One way the district may make up for the major budget deficit is by privatizing transportation. They also may shift staff around.
But Amber Rains, a parent at the district said the layoffs wouldn't fix the overall problem.
"They’re moving people all over, they’re laying people off. What are they doing? Where’s the money? They can’t answer the questions? They dodge everything," she said.
FOX 2 reached out to members of the school board for comment, but did not hear back.
Karpinski said there needs to be accountability in the district, as well as a plan that outlines what will need to be done to even out the budget.
"They need to provide a plan that doesn’t set forth and make statements of significant savings without actual numbers and data attached. A forensic audit would be a great thing to have," she said.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 18.