K-12

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Kids still enjoy the playground at Stocking Elementary School. The school in Grand Rapids was closed last year to save money. State Representative Roy Schmidt used the shuttered school as a backdrop while telling people Michigan’s fund for K-through-12 schools had a surplus this year.

“We had the money, it just got switched somewhere else.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A decision on the future of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ superintendent has been delayed again.

Despite no comments from the school board, several residents and parents talked about Taylor’s future. Tyrone Bynum admits he has not always gotten along with Taylor.

“My focus is what’s good for the kids. And I think we’ve got a winning team. And we can’t afford right now a new superintendent with paying that one and him too…this brother is expensive,” Bynum chuckled.

If they chose the option - it would cost Grand Rapids schools around $1 million dollars to buy out the remaining four year of Taylor’s contract.

The school board met twice Monday, once in a private morning meeting and a public one later in the evening. They did not approve Taylor’s evaluation for last school year or discuss the fact that’s he’s applied for jobs at other school districts.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids public school board will consider whether their superintendent should continue with the district. Superintendent Bernard Taylor was passed up for job at another school district today. This is the second time this year Taylor was considered as a finalist for another job.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids Public School Board has a unique policy. People who want to talk about something that’s not already on the agenda must sign up 5 days ahead of time, and explain to officials what they want to discuss.

Opponents of the policy say it intimidates people from expressing their concerns.

A special committee recommended the board get rid of the advance sign up requirement. But the comments will not be televised.

This fall Grand Rapids Public Schools will be able to avoid cuts to transportation, art and music. But Michigan’s third largest school district will eliminate close to 140 positions as part of a plan to deal with a projected $22 million dollar budget shortfall.

The vote for the budget was unanimous, in sharp contrast to last year. That was a huge relief for Superintendent Bernard Taylor, for a moment anyway.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids Public Schools is facing a $22 million dollar budget deficit for next school year. That’s the largest shortfall Michigan’s third biggest school district has faced.

The plan to close the gap includes eliminating close to 140 positions and use $5 million in savings. Despite that, no one showed up to speak at a public hearing on the school budget Thursday night.

State lawmakers are still expected to cut the funding they provide K-12 public schools. But that cut could be lower than initially expected because the State of Michigan is projected to collect $429 million more in tax revenue than first expected.

Administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are pushing lawmakers to restore so-called categorical cuts before anything else. These are separate funds for schools to better handle specific issues– like declining enrollment, and bilingual and special education.

The state House met late into the night last night to approve an education spending plan by a narrow margin. It took several hours for Republican leaders to wrangle enough votes to approve the budget proposal that cuts funding for universities and K-12 schools. Democrats argue the cuts would hurt graduation rates and opportunities for kids.

Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Moss says Democrats’ complaints don’t tell the whole story on school funding.  

“Now I’ve heard a lot of talk about how we’re destroying our education system. I’d just like to say something that this budget cuts K-12, cuts School Aid by 3-point-five percent. The School Aid Fund has gone up 14 percent over the last 10 years."

Democratic state Representative Tim Melton tried to persuade Republican lawmakers not to vote for the measure that would move money from K-12 schools to reduce cuts to colleges and universities. He says it violates what voters intended when they revamped school funding in the mid-1990s.  

 “This is a historic vote, and I don’t think this vote should be taken lightly. We’ve heard conversations about Proposal A, and I wish folks would go back and read Proposal A, especially the new members of this chamber, and tell me one time in that bill do you see the word ‘community colleges’ or ‘universities,’ and keep looking, because it’s not in there."

The House budget proposal would also sanction universities that offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.

The House version of the budget must be reconciled with a Senate spending plan before it goes to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager says he hopes to get the city back on solid financial ground by the middle of next year. People in the community are still trying to figure out where they fit in to Joe Harris’ plans.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would change how we fund public schools. That change would start with a cut to schools at a time when the School Aid Fund is growing.

The School Aid Fund is one of the main sources of money for K-12 public schools. Since it was established by the 1908 Michigan Constitution and even though in the 1963 Constitution “higher education” was added, the money in the School Aid Fund only has been used to pay for educating public school children. That is, until this year. 

The last legislature ‘borrowed’ a couple of hundred-million dollars from the School Aid Fund to give to community colleges. I say ‘borrowed,’ but there’s no indication that it’s going to be paid back.

Federal stimulus money helped make up the difference. But for this coming fiscal year, there is no more federal stimulus money.

Photo courtesy of www.senate.mi.gov/whitmer

Democrats in the Michigan Senate want a constitutional amendment passed next year that would protect K-12 schools funding. The amendment would not allow community colleges and universities to tap money from the state's school aid fund.

At a news conference today, the Associated Press reports that Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said, “K-12 schools wouldn't need to absorb the $470-per-student cut Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing for 2011-12 if he wasn't trying to give nearly $1 billion from the $12 billion school aid fund to community colleges and universities.”

Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press explains:

To appear on the ballot, the proposal would need two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate. Whitmer and her Democratic colleagues believe a majority of Republicans, who control both chambers, would support the proposal.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s third largest school district estimates it would face a $25 million deficit if lawmakers pass Governor Rick Snyder’s budget. In an annual address to the community Saturday, Superintendent Bernard Taylor outlined how that could impact next school year

Financial challenges

The district has trimmed around to $70 million from its budget in the last decade. Taylor says to cut $25 million in one year would be difficult.

“But we can’t be afraid. We can’t show any trepidation about what our situation is because in the end, whether we have a billion dollars or we have one dollar children have to be educated.”

He proposed a pay freeze for all administrative staff, and that they pay 20% of their health care premiums. But even with those and a number of other cuts, Taylor warned the district still may have to lay off more than 180 employees.

Academic challenges

Next year, the state will raise cut off scores for what’s considered "proficient" on the standardized MEAP test. Taylor says that will have a negative impact their academic achievement. But he stressed raising standards for a high school diploma isn’t a bad thing.

“It is not a precursor of anything if you are not college ready or workforce ready, meaning you have to have pronounced academics skills in the areas of literacy, mathematics, problem solving and being able to work cooperatively with others.”

Taylor wants to do a better job determining if students are really prepared to study beyond high school.

He’s asking the state allow the district to keep those students who aren’t ready in high school longer. Taylor wants to do that in cooperation with Grand Rapids Community College.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Republican lawmakers in Lansing are taking feedback on their first draft of the budget for K through 12 public schools. The plan cuts less per student than Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Senator Howard Walker chairs the appropriations subcommittee on K-12, School Aid and Education. He says instead, the Senate version gets rid of line items funds in the budget that cover specific things like school bus inspections, adult education, and money for districts with two consecutive years of declining student enrollment.

 “We’re not making broad-based cuts to programs, that we’re not increasing class sizes too broadly so that the delivery of good educational opportunities is not affected.”

School districts get a certain amount of money from the state for each student. Currently, $7,316 is the minimum per pupil allowance a district gets. Governor Snyder is proposing to cut that amount by $470 (including making permanent a $170 cut made last year) for all school districts. The plan before the Senate would cut that per pupil allowance by $290.

Funding Education

Mar 9, 2011

Mike Simeck, the superintendent of schools in Berkley, Michigan, has something in common with Governor Snyder -- or at least, with the way the governor ran his businesses:

He believes in proven results. “I run an organization that is the largest employer in our city, where I would hear from our client base immediately if we begin to fail,” he told me last night at ten o’clock, after each of us had put in more than a full day.

“I run this thing based on empirical evidence, on data and results, and as a result, we’ve been successful.”

That‘s no idle boast. Berkley is a small but diverse district with a little less than five thousand students. Roughly speaking, they are two-thirds white; one-quarter black, one eighth Hispanic and Asian.

He has affluent kids from Huntington Woods, working and middle class kids from Berkley, poor kids and Orthodox Jews from a slice of Oak Park. They run lean and mean and get results.

Want proof? More than four out of every five Berkley students who apply to the University of Michigan get in. Their ACT scores are way over the national average. Simeck, who’s been in his job for four years, says this is no accident. When other school districts outperform Berkley, they study them and make changes.

That’s helped lead to Berkley High being recognized by Newsweek as one of the nation’s “public elite”  high schools.

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