School Beat — December 17, 2009

The Good, the bad, the ugly

by MICHAEL S. SHIBLER, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools

The Good—This fall, Rockford’s marching band took third place in the state in Division I competition. This is the strongest rating our marching band has ever earned in recent history. Congratulations!

Several of our athletic teams won district and regional championships. Congratulations to Rockford’s boys water polo team, who won their seventh state title over the past 10 years. Their achievement was especially gratifying because the team was not considered a threat during tournament play.

New classroom expansions, paid through the 2008 bond issue, at Cannonsburg, Lakes, Roguewood, and Valley View elementary schools are now ready for students. Planning continues for classroom additions to Belmont and Crestwood elementary schools. District-wide technology upgrades along with recreation and athletic field additions continue toward completion and within budget.

Rockford’s academic and fine arts programs continue to exceed the high expectations established by staff, students and community. The successes our students experience in the classroom continue to validate Rockford’s outstanding academic programs.

The Bad—Since the early 2000s, bi-partisan organizations such as the Citizens Research Council and University of Michigan economists, have been predicting that the current system to fund public education would soon be broken. Well, it’s almost 2010, and the system is on life support with barely a pulse.

With the 1994 implementation of Proposal A, school districts currently receive two-thirds of their revenue through state sales and income taxes and one-third from property taxes. With Michigan’s high unemployment rate and significant downsizing of manufacturing, revenues from state sales and income taxes are below expectations, and revenue from property taxes are barely neutral, creating what is called a “structural deficit.”

A structural deficit exists when revenues to fund essential services, such as police, fire and education, are less than required to maintain existing programs. Most experts will tell you that state government cannot “cut their way” out of a structural deficit and that new or expanded revenue resources must be created. Even in a severely stressed economy, Michigan lawmakers have the means to restructure the funding system for essential services. But the question still remains: “Does the will exist?”

If Michigan’s current system to fund public education is broken because of the structural deficit, how is Rockford Public Schools affected? Below is a brief snapshot of how our school system has been adversely impacted:

• June 2009—FREEZE—The Rockford Board of Education adopted the district’s 2009-10 budget based on a freeze in funding from the state of Michigan. The freeze required a reduction of $2.1 million in programs and staff.

• September 2009—CUT—The state legislature presented a school aid budget to the governor with a reduction of $165 per student. This reduction required Rockford Public Schools (RPS) to make an additional $1.7 million in staff and program cuts.

• October 2009—CUT—Governor Granholm determined that the state legislature’s 2009-10 school aid budget was significantly short of revenue and issued an executive order cut of an additional $127 per student, requiring RPS to find an additional $1 million in staff and program cuts.

The state legislature and governor’s inability to agree on the means to reduce these cuts to public schools means RPS must reduce the 2009-10 budget by $292 per student, which equates to $2.7 million in staff and program cuts midway through the school year.

In summary, since June 2009, RPS has been placed in the unfortunate position of having to reduce programs and staff by $4.8 million. In my opinion, this is unacceptable!

However, next summer could get potentially much worse.

The Ugly—Between January and April 2010, if the state legislature and governor are unable to work cooperatively to fix the structural deficit, the 2010-11 School Aid Fund is projected to be under-funded by $500 to $700 per student. For RPS, that equates to an additional $4 to $6 million in program and staff cuts. That number does not take into account variable cost increases such as electricity, heating, fuel, insurance, etc.

This scenario will seriously compound the $4.8 million in program and staff reductions which took place in 2009-10, and it will be impossible for the RPS to continue to provide the exemplary opportunities currently offered to students.

If Michigan lawmakers are unable to do their jobs and fix the structural deficit in the School Aid Fund, the funding crisis in 2010-11 will deteriorate to the point where it will be impossible to attract new businesses and families to Michigan.

Today, realistic solutions to solve the structural deficit exist, and it is the responsibility of our state legislature and governor to work together to determine these solutions. Governor Granholm, Representative Pearce, and Senator Jansen need to hear from YOU. I encourage you to ask them to resolve the structural deficit in the School Aid Fund (contact information for all legislators can be found at www.rockfordschools.org under “Legislative Information”).

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Thank you.

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