School Districts Fear Budget Cuts
|Declines in state revenue could create
|January 8, 2009
The January revenue conference -- when lawmakers
meet to begin deciding how much money the state
will have for next year's budget -- has an
ominous feel for many Michigan school
administrators this year.
They gratefully accepted an early Christmas
present from the state, when Gov. Jennifer
Granholm announced that midyear budget cuts
would not affect schools.
But with 54% of Michigan's districts holding
less than the recommended 15% of their budget in
savings, and about one third of the districts
approaching dangerously low levels of savings,
administrators will be nervously watching the
conference -- which starts Jan. 9 -- and hoping
there will be enough money in next year's budget
to keep their programs going.
"The thing that really frightens me for the
future is, where do we go next?" said David
Houle, business manager for Willow Run Community
Schools. "We're going to come to a point where
there are no additional cuts you can make that
don't impact in the classroom."
In these uncertain economic times, state
revenues could be down between $500 million and
$1 billion next year, according to Mitch Bean,
director of the House Fiscal Agency.
At best, any drop in state revenue could mean
school districts have to make cuts in anything
from supplies to transportation. At worst, cuts
in school revenues would drive some districts
into a deficit.
"This is not an environment in which we expect
to get anything," said Tom White, executive
director of Michigan School Business Officials.
"It's really a question of how difficult it's
going to be and what we're going to do about
"There are so many unknowns, it's like playing
with a whole deck of wild cards," White said.
His organization is recommending school
administrators plan for no increase in school
funding next year.
The good news is that there may be more money
available for schools because there are fewer
students. Michigan lost about 5,000 pupils,
saving about $40 million because school money is
doled out on a per-pupil basis.
The bad news is that schools don't necessarily
lose pupils in cost-saving ways. A district that
loses 25 students is unlikely to lose them in
the same classroom or even the same building. So
expenses such as teachers, heating and
transportation remain the same.
What could help? Strong Christmas sales
generating more tax revenue, help for the U.S.
automakers saving Michigan jobs or a timely
federal economic stimulus package that could
include a significant savings for Michigan in
"As soon as those sales in the state go down,
we're not funding our schools," Houle said.
But even if these situations materialize, no one
knows whether they will be enough. Most worried
are those whose districts are likely to fall
into a deficit if the state cuts any funding.
"It's the equivalent of squeezing blood out of a
turnip," said Charles Muncatchy, superintendent
of Mt. Clemens Community Schools. He said his
district is out of savings, and the likely
result of any funding cuts would be a deficit.
East Detroit Public Schools also would be likely
to end up in a deficit if state funding is cut.
The district is down to a slim $57,000 in
"It's a mess," said Superintendent Bruce Kefgen.
"I can't tell you where we'd ultimately cut."
The Willow Run Community Schools district
already was in a deficit, and files an annual
plan on how it is reducing its deficit with the
"We've already made major changes and
concessions with our employees and staffing,"
Houle said. "We don't have anyplace to go for
Even well-heeled districts can struggle.
Bloomfield Hills Public Schools has a cushion in
the form of $20 million in savings, but its
officials still feel that it has to close two
schools next year.
"Just because we have a fund balance doesn't
mean our board wants to tap it," said district
spokeswoman Betsy Erikson.
Educators say if money is tight, it's only fair
for the state and federal governments to chip in
by dropping some of the schools' requirements.
"If you don't have the money for us, you could
cut some of those unfunded mandates," said
Kefgen. He suggests cutting back on the state
testing programs such as the MEAP, which he said
costs districts thousands of dollars to
administer, or rethinking all the databases that
districts are required to keep.
Muncatchy said he would like the federal
government to fund some of the requirements
under No Child Left Behind.
"I'm all for rigor and that schools should be
places of excellence, but other countries in the
world spend 30% of their federal funds on
education, and America spends less than 3%,"
More than two dozen school districts and charter
schools began the 2008-09 school year with a
Avondale School District $1.4 million
Benton Harbor Area Schools $7 million
Clintondale Community Schools $4.7 million
Detroit Public Schools $139.7 million
Ecorse Public Schools $137,000
Ewen-Trout Creek Schools $1.5 million
Garden City Public Schools $1.5 million
Hancock Public Schools $872,000
Hazel Park Schools $734,000
Highland Park Schools $151,000
Hillsdale Preparatory School $6,000
Inkster Public Schools $2.6 million
International Academy of Saginaw $615,000
Ishpeming Public School District $600,000
Madison Public Schools $600,000
Meridian Public Schools $164,000
Muskegon Heights Public Schools $862,000
New Haven Community Schools $122,000
Owendale-Gagetown Area Schools $19,000
Quincy Community School District $236,000
Redford Union Schools $270,000
River Rouge School District $630,000
Vanderbilt Area Schools $55,000
Victor Academy $28,000
Walden Green Montessori $116,000
Willow Run Community Schools $2.3 million
West Village Academy $600,000
Discovery Arts and Technology PSA $420,000
Northpointe Academy $185,000
Source: Michigan Department of Education,
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