State School Aid Package a source of concern for Farwell Schools

By Cathy Taylor

At last Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Farwell Public School’s Business Manager Jacob Sullivan presented the Board with an overview of statistics concerning Governor Snyder’s State School Aid Package and the effect it will have on Farwell schools if it is signed.

According to Sullivan, the foundation allowance that pays for school operations is scheduled to go up $60 in an effort to close the gap between higher funded public school districts and those that are funded at a lower rate.

Sullivan stated, “That will be a $60.00 increase for us, along with a one- time equity payment of $50.00 per student increase, for a total of $110 for the 2013-14 school year.  However, the MPSER (pension plan) offset money was reduced by approximately $32 per student, so that actually leaves us with a net change of a $78 increase per student.  For the 2014-15 school year, the $50 equity payment will be eliminated.  So we will more than likely be looking at even less per student.”

Superintendent Seiter added, “Also as part of this school aid package, the Michigan Department of Education is forbidden from spending a dime on common core state standards.  We will no longer be able to spend money on implementation of common core state standards.  We have spent the last 2 or 3 years working on pacing guides, unit guides and building assessments for a state standardized test adhering to the common core state standards that have already been adopted and approved by 46 states in the Union.  Now, in essence, it has been stopped.”

According to Seiter, the Common Core battle is about the right to control your curriculum.  A locally controlled curriculum keeps the academic doors open to valuable parental input, teacher innovativeness and creativity, as well as core curriculum stability.  A federally controlled curriculum tends to stifle many of these educational assets with an abundance of bureaucratic control and red tape.

At this point in the transition from the old MEAP assessments, Common Core Standards are vague, at best.  As it currently stands, many Michigan school districts find themselves forced to operate in an atmosphere of confusion and constant fear of arbitrary reprisal when it comes to the rules and regulations with which they must comply.  Seiter added, “If you let the legislators and politicians dictate your curriculum, you could realistically find it changing every three or four years.”
In other Board presentations, Nancy Cairnduff presented the Board with updated information concerning the School District’s “homeless” students.

“I like to use the term ‘transitional’ instead of ‘homeless’ due to the negative connotation associated with the word, “ began Cairnduff.  “When we talk about students who are homeless, most people think of kids sleeping on the streets or in a car.  The state’s definition of homeless is someone who is not living in an established residence of their own.  This means that a student could be living in a shelter, motel, at a friend’s house or even with another family member and still be considered homeless.”

Currently in the Farwell Public School system, 43 students are reported to be homeless—13 from the elementary school, 16 from the middle school and 14 from the high school.  However, these state-mandated statistics must not be taken at face value.  For instance, most people would not consider a woman with children who lives with her parents as homeless.  However, the state does consider people in these situations as homeless, and their numbers are reflected in the overall total of 43 students.

“The number of homeless students hasn’t really changed over the past several years,” stated Seiter.  “The situation is the same, but it is the identification process that is now being enforced that leads people to believe the homeless situation has become worse.”

Cairnduff added, “The biggest thing we try to ensure for our transitional students is that their education remains stable and consistent.  We do everything possible to keep them in the school district.  We can  provide them with free breakfast, free lunch, school supplies, clothing and tutoring.  We can even provide them with gas cards for transportation.”

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