2 Michigan schools could close early; in 1993 Kalkaska did it on purpose

May 10, 2013

No doubt, public schools in Michigan are struggling.

Around 400 students in the Buena Vista school district in Saginaw have been shut out after the district announced they couldn't make payroll.

And it was revealed yesterday that Pontiac schools are close to running out of money and might have to close their doors early.

In her recent post, Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton pointed out that the last school system in Michigan to close their doors before the end of the school year was Kalkaska in 1993.

The only difference between what's going on now and what happened 20 years ago is that Kalkaska administrators chose to close their schools early to protest what they saw as a lack of adequate funding.

20 years after that event, Interlochen Public Radio's Tom Carr talked to those involved in that decision:

Many public schools had been slashing band, busing and sports from the budgets before 1993. But Kalkaska school officials decided back then they’d had enough. After voters turned down tax increases to erase a deficit, administrators took the unprecedented step of chopping off the end of the school year to balance their budget.

Their actions led to a change in how schools were funded in Michigan. Instead of funding based on property taxes, which led to gross inequity across school systems, Michigan switched to a funding model based on state sales taxes.

Voters supported Proposal A in March of 1994 raising the state sales tax from 4 to 6 percent.

Carr spoke with Jim Pavelka who was superintendent at Allegan County Intermediate School District at the time of the Kalkaska closing.

“The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer as we started into the ‘90s, and then Kalkaska shut down and people got serious about some kind of equitable funding process,” he said. “And Proposal A was a very good process until it was tinkered with in later years.”

Pavelka said Michigan schools are back to where they were twenty years ago - some have more, while others have a lot less.

Three school districts in the state are under a state-appointed emergency manager. It looks like two more are headed that way.