School funding needs careful consideration

A definition of “reform” is to change and improve something by correcting faults.

A definition of “preserve” is to protect, to conserve or care for.

By now, most folks have heard or read something about Governor Snyder’s budget proposal.  School districts have been identified to receive a $471/student reduction.  In addition, a required increase for employer retirement contributions adds approximately another $230/student to this liability.

Public school districts are facing yet another budget challenge only this time the reduction of $700/student far exceeds what most folks were anticipating. In abbreviated form, these cuts amount to over $5.3 million dollars less to the K-12 school districts in Mason-Lake and Oceana Counties.

This amount does not even include any impact that continued declining enrollment will have on our school districts’ budgets or other “categorical”-type funding cuts that could be unique to individual districts.

Accompanying these reductions to our K-12 school districts, the proposed budget also allocates $196 million to community colleges and $700 million to universities from the School Aid Fund. The school aid fund is the source through which public schools in Michigan receive over 80 percent of their funding.  While these “other” institutions have a crucial role to play in educating students for employment for the future, they also have the ability to raise operational revenue through tuition, which K-12 districts do not.

Continued cuts to K-12 funding and/or providing financial support to other organizations from the School Aid Fund make it even more difficult for students to have the qualifications needed for higher education.

While there is a genuine agreement to “share the pain,” reductions of this size to districts that have been cutting back for several years creates a huge dilemma. The overriding question is, how can existing quality programs and services that parents and students have grown to appreciate and expect possibly be preserved?

The ongoing headline to “REFORM,” gives little room for the appreciation and preservation of many existing quality programs that could soon be gone. School board members and administrators throughout the state have pretty much asked for reforms, but cuts of this degree without mandated reforms seem overwhelming.

To put the magnitude of these proposed cuts into perspective, consider this:

Data from the 2008-2009 school year showed that the combined transportation costs of all the K-12 districts located in the Mason-Lake and Oceana ISDs was approximately $4.1 million.  The combined athletic budgets were approximately $1.7 million.

While local districts will need to make tough and individual decisions on where these cuts will come from, this data shows the total cost of two valued programs that might equate to the combined size of the cost reductions needed.

At this time, the budget has not been finalized. The hope is that K-12 education will be given a higher priority than is currently proposed.