ESCANABA - School districts are working hard to develop a budget and programs for the next school year. Lawmakers are in the process of debating legislation to reduce dollars for K-12 education, while also removing local control for how and where these dollars are spent. The headline of the Kalamazoo Gazette on Tuesday, March 22, 2011, quoted Gov. Rick Snyder, saying that his proposed cut in K-12 funding would be "difficult" for local school districts, but denied it is an attempt to break the unions. He also said that he is not advocating rollbacks in salaries, saying he sees the bigger changes occurring in benefits. "We would want to hurt people's pay as little as possible," he said. He said, "there's lots of room for reforms that will allow districts to absorb the cuts" He suggests that employees pay 20 percent of insurance costs and cut 10 percent of non-instructional spending.
Governor Snyder's proposed reduction to the foundation allowance amounts to $470 per pupil, and for Escanaba, this means $1.2 million less in state revenue. A loss of federal stimulus money (EdJobs) will be $602,481. On the expenditure side, Escanaba will see increased costs in the retirement rate it is required to pay, which equates to another $239 per pupil - $471,200 in extra cost. Conservatively, just with these figures, Escanaba could be short approximately $ 2.2 million.
To get to the $2.2 million, following the governor's suggestion whereby employees cover 20 percent of their health insurance (saving $630,062) and then reducing 10 percent of non-instructional costs ($318,539), we save only $948,601! We would then have to cut a little over $1.2 million dollars more to get to the balance of reductions, certainly affecting programs and services.
These proposed cuts to education are on top of previous reductions over a course of years. We have closed schools, shared services, and positions have been consolidated or eliminated. On top of that, schools continue to be required to do more with considerably less, while our students need and deserve more. As difficult as it is to imagine, five out of every 10 students in Escanaba are economically disadvantaged. We have identified at least 47 students who are on our McKinney-Vento (Homeless) list. We serve students who need additional academic support, but also serve students who perform at high levels and receive advanced classes. Our staff is highly trained, talented, and provides more of a "prescriptive" education than ever could be imagined 30 years ago - all for the benefit of our students.
These educational cuts are not only bad for all students in Michigan they are especially bad for students in our area. While more well-to-do districts might consider cutting rugby or perhaps their Spanish immersion programs, schools in the U.P. may be forced to look at "non-essentials" such as A.P. Biology, new textbooks/technology, instructional support, or worse yet - increasing class size.
Escanaba will do all it can to protect opportunities for students. We see all of our programs and services as vital. Our school system is the third largest employer in our city. Many of our families who send children to our schools also work, live, and shop in Escanaba. School functions are valued in our community, and a great education is the "golden ticket" for our students. Governor Snyder's "shared sacrifice" will negatively impact our students, families, and community.
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Michele Burley Lemire is Superintendent of Escanaba Area Public Schools