Carl Schoessel, a 20-year plus veteran superintendent at the Hastings Area School System with extensive knowledge of school finance and budgets, agreed to accept the interim superintendent position at Delton Kellogg Schools in July of 2014, when then-Superintendent Paul Blacken retired.
It was to be a short transition. “I would do a semester to keep things in place and help with the financial problems until a new superintendent was hired,” Schoessel said. He stayed for three years.
His "term" is over, but he's agreed to stay available and help with the transition to new Superintendent Kyle Corlett.
During those three years, the district’s problems included a $1.6 million bill from the state, declining student count, half-completed construction work and the threat of being designated a school in financial stress.
“We worked as a team, and as a team, we overcame them,” he said.
Looming was the repayment of $1.6 million to the state in excessive state aid after auditors found errors in the student count from 2009-2011. With no remedy in the courts, in 2015, Schoessel, attorneys, board of education members and others, made a final appeal to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Their argument was persuasive and they won a reduction in the payback from $1.6 million to $360,000 to be paid back over five years.
“We can make those payments, we couldn’t have made the $1.6 million,” Schoessel said.
With some of the financial uncertainty gone, the board of education asked Schoessel to stay another year to help with half-finished millage-funded construction work. “That would wind down within a year, so I signed on for another year.” He also wanted to work on the declining student count, either by retaining or recruiting students.The construction is wrapping up this summer and student counts have now risen three years in a row.
Last year, the Michigan Department of Treasury declared potential financial stress in the district. Delton Kellogg was to restore its fund balance to five percent of revenue by the end of the 2017-2918 school year or submit periodic financial status reports to the state treasury. The district ended 2016 with a 5.2 percent fund balance, 18 months early. In December, 2016, the state treasurer determined the potential stress no longer existed.
The goal was met because of a substantial increase in student enrollment, hence more state aid, and a “wonderful staff” that agreed to a cut in salaries by teachers and a wage freeze by others, Schoessel said. “”Everybody gave something. They saved the school. There were other things, but those are the two major reasons. We have a good team here, and this was definitely a team effort.”
“Carl was definitely a game changer,” Board of Education President Jim McManus said. “He was able to keep morale up; he brought confidence. He negotiated with all of the groups for long term contracts so we could do long term budgeting; that made it a lot easier for us to dig out of the hole. He did the bond work correctly and we got $1 million more than we planned. With his help, enrollment stabilized,” he said.
“We didn’t have to cut any academics or sports. We held on. It’s a testament to his confidence. Without him there, we may not have been able to do what we did. It was a gift that he was able to come and help us out and he did. He left us in a position of strength and able to move forward.”
Delton was one of 50 schools in Michigan ranked one of the Best High Schools in Michigan by U.S.News in 2014, offers 31 Advanced Placement Courses and has rising test scores. The students have won academic honors, and the high school basketball team won a sportsmanship award, McManus said.
“I have said to everyone, it was my pleasure to be here,” Schoessel said. “It is privilege to be part of the team. This is a good community, with good people.”
Photo: Carl Schoessel