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State budget adds $120 more for RESD students

Clare and Gladwin area schools will be among the lowest funded schools across Michigan to get additional state funding next year. Each of the lowest funded districts across the State will get a $120 per pupil increase in State Aid.

According to a release from State Representative Joel Johnson, “The Michigan House completed all state budgets by the self-imposed June 1 deadline with approval last week of the K-12 Education spending plan. The approved budget increases the foundation allowance $120 per pupil for the schools currently at the minimum base of $6,846 per pupil, while prorating the amount down to no increase for districts at the high end of between $7,000 and more than $10,000 per pupil.”

“Lower-funded school districts across Michigan will receive additional money from the state’s School Aid Fund as the Legislature continues to close the gap between the highest and lowest per-pupil foundation grants appropriated in the state, Rep. Joel Johnson announced.

“I’m happy to see the lower-funded districts making up more ground on the funding disparity issue,” said Johnson, R-Clare. “No child should be worth more in one part of the state than another.  Each time we do have movement toward an equitable formula we’re going in the right direction.  This budget represents another step in the right direction on equal funding levels.”

Johnson has introduced legislation that would fully equalize funding levels between districts over a three year period.  Nearly all of the school districts in northern Michigan are funded at the minimum level.

Johnson said he was also glad to see the budget once again completed by June 1st, four months ahead of schedule.

“In years past, school districts were left guessing about what state funding levels will be,” Johnson noted.  “This often led to difficult changes having to be made later in the year.  Having the state budget done now allows our locals to budget effectively, but we still need to bring the fiscal years in line so that districts no longer have to borrow money in anticipation of state funds.”

The budget also protects categorical funding for small class size and declining enrollment, maintains the same structure for teacher pensions as last year, provides performance grants for successful testing and graduation rates, and makes $50 million available for technology improvement grants.  $130 million was also appropriated to begin paying down a looming unfunded liability within the school employee pension fund.

All three Clare County Superintendents said they appreciate any help they get in state funding.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m very appreciative of this increase,” said Harrison Superintendent Tom House when he was asked what the additional funds would mean for their district. He continued, “But they took away $470 per pupil just two years ago. It’s wonderful that they are now giving us some of that funding back.”

He continued, “Most people don’t realize that there is piece missing in all of this. The State has been urging us to outsource as many (non instructional) services as we can. We have and that means we no longer pay the benefits for those [outsourced contract] salaries into the school retirement fund. Our contribution is now 24.46 percent of wages. Now the State is looking at bills; ways to add funding to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS). One version of these bills [Senate Bill 1040 and House Bill 2] as proposed would cost school districts a 13.1 percentage ‘assessment’ on the cost of current operating expenses. If this passes we could lose all we have gained [the increase in State Aid] and more. It makes us very cautious.”

Farwell Superintendent Carl Seiter said, “Any addition to the foundation allowance is much appreciated, although after losing $470 per pupil just two years ago, the school economic climate still poses a very challenging environment for public schools. In Farwell the increase will mean about $172,000.00, which will be used to help support instruction.”

Seiter said, “The Senate and House Bills (changing the state retirement program for educational employees) currently under discussion may end up costing our district an additional $52,000. If they do this the current employer retirement contribution rate of 24.46 percent would remain the same for the next fiscal year. Currently it is slated to increase to 27.37 percent next year. If Senate Bill 1040 is approved by the legislature, it could end up costing the district as much as $234,000 because the employer contribution rate would then be based on current operating expenses rather than just payroll.”

Clare Superintendent Doniel Pummell said she feels that same way as both the Farwell and Harrison Superintendents. “We have made some assumptions with our budget planning already,” Pummell said. “This isn’t any big new revelation for us. Based on an enrollment of 1,537 it will add $184,396. to our budget next year. That’s not very much when your overall budget tops $13 million. We are grateful but we don’t plan to make any major changes to our proposed course of action. We are still working on next year’s budget and will take the additional funding into account. Any additional revenue we receive will help build our fund balance, which was reduced to just 4 percent on the proposed budget for next year.”

In addition to the $257 million increase in education funding, the overall state budget includes $605 million to reduce long-term debt and $140 million for the state’s Rainy Day Fund, Johnson reported in his release.