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Area school districts brace for cuts, reductions


'Holding our students hostage is not acceptable'



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March 02, 2011 - By The Citizen staff

In the face of devastating proposed cuts to education, Brandon Schools Superintendent Lorrie McMahon is urging parents to contact state legislators.

"Tell them that holding our students hostage is not acceptable," said McMahon Tuesday. "They need to return the school aid fund back to the K-12 program it is designed to support. We talk about the necessity of quality education for the state of Michigan. Quality education doesn't come free, it needs to be paid for."

Governor Rick Snyder proposed a state budget last month that includes across the board cuts of $300 per pupil. This would be in addition to the formerly enacted $170 per-pupil cut, resulting in a loss of nearly $500 in the per-pupil allowance. In Brandon, which currently has 3,355 students, this will equal a $1.6 million decrease in funding and puts the district at roughly the same funding level they had five years ago.

In Goodrich, which has 2,118 students, the reductions would mean a loss of $631,017 in funding.

Both districts, like all across the state, are also facing ever-escalating expenses, including healthcare costs, mandated increases in retirement funding for school employees, and step increases in pay for employees, as well as miscellaneous increases in expenditures such as fuel, utilities, and materials.

In Goodrich, expenses will hit the school coffers for $1,175,614 more than last year.

"The school budget will drop from about $18 million to $16 million," said Goodrich Superintendent John Fazer.

In Goodrich federal funding will be reduced by $1,000,393 for the 2011-12 school budget. That includes the elimination of Edujobs funding in addition to ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ) dollars.

"I believe that if everyone works together, we can make the necessary reductions and restructuring such that it would not be necessary to impact programs," Fazer said. "We may have to increase class size in some areas, but every one of our students will continue to receive the top quality education that Goodrich School District is known for. We can overcome this financial obstacle short term and long term if we make the necessary decisions that will require a commitment from everyone."

In Brandon, where the school board made nearly $3 million in cuts last year and still had to take more than $600,000 from the fund balance to make up a remaining shortfall, McMahon was not as optimistic.

"The proposed cuts mean we have to figure out how to fill a $4 million gap in our budget," she said. "The biggest part of our budget is people... Lay-offs are a very real possibility."

McMahon said there could be a drastic reduction in offerings at schools, particularly in extra-curricular activities or support given to children who fall behind. Reductions in sports, something that was considered last year, will be back on the table, as well as all-day, every day kindergarten, the STEM academy, trimesters, and even busing and elementary literacy programs.

"We could cut all the athletics, but that's a drop in the bucket," said McMahon. "We could cut all the music and art, but that's a drop in the bucket, too and it hurts kids. Sports and the arts are all part of the educational experience that we think kids should have...These are choices we shouldn't have to make, but we do. The kids are the losers and it muddies our future."

Frustrating her even more is that Brandon shares with Holly the distinction of already being the lowest funded districts in the county. Proposal A, passed in the mid-90s, was meant to equalize funding among districts; however, there are still large gaps. Brandon, for example, received $7,208 per-pupil funding for the 2009-2010 school year, while Bloomfield Hills, the top funded district in the county, received $12,324 per pupil.

"When (the state) cuts a flat rate, it's a much larger proportion of our budget than the top funded districts," she noted. "We're already at the bottom of the barrel and they are taking more from us."

McMahon said she understands the situation the state is in, but she is aggravated that Snyder wants to take a large portion of the school aid budget designed to fund K-12 education and use it to support community colleges and 4-year universities, who have the ability to increase their revenue, something that is not an option for public school districts dependent on the state as their sole source of funding.

School districts may have to wait until September, when the state is required to approve a budget, to learn what their funding will be. School districts must pass their own budgets in June.

McMahon said finance committee meetings focusing on possible reductions throughout the district will begin this month. She hopes to have a town hall meeting in April to learn what parents of students in the district believe are priorities.

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