By Judy Reed
“As presented, Enrolled House Bill 4447 is fiscally flawed,” said Governor Jennifer Granholm, in her letter to lawmakers about the signing of the bill. “In simple terms, if this School Aid bill were a check written on a bank, it would be returned for insufficient funds.” She said that by some estimates there could be as much as a $264 million gap between the expenditures called for in this bill and the School Aid Fund revenues needed to pay for them. “Failure to address this revenue shortfall quickly will only make future education funding cuts deeper and more destructive to our schools.”
The cuts have school districts across the state scrambling to find ways to make ends meet. Fortunately, Cedar Springs Public Schools was prepared.
“We were expecting something as far as cuts, but not that much,” said Superintendent Ron McDermed. “Fortunately, we had 46 more students this year than we thought we would have, which now helped us to almost exactly break even,” he explained. The cuts leave Cedar Springs $50,000 in the black. But if another $165 cut comes through mid-year, it will set them back over $565,000.
“We’ve cut just about as much as we can,” noted McDermed. “We are already lean in most areas. It would be devastating to get those cuts mid-year.”
He said they are looking at everything they can to possibly prepare, including one-time cuts, and how to do things cheaper.
“Something has to give. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip. We’re not like an auto manufacturer where you can shut down a line of cars and be ok. We still have 3,500 kids to teach and serve,” remarked McDermed.
Granholm vetoed several line items in the bill, including Section 20j, a provision that would authorize special supplemental foundation allowance payments totaling $51.5 million for certain districts with the highest foundation allowances. Those 39 districts have received as much as $4,000 more per student each year than the base foundation grant of $7,316 per student. They received the extra funds based on a formula that dates back to 1994, when property taxes funded individual districts. Those 39 districts had the highest property taxes. The issue has been a thorn in the side of many districts, like Cedar Springs, who have fought to equalize funding across the board.
“At least she’s looking at ways to divide the money more equally,” said McDermed.
He also noted that he heard that they might hold back some of the stimulus funding that was to go to the schools. “I hope the state won’t do that to us,” he said.