‘It comes down to our elected officials doing their job’
Rockford’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mike Shibler recently held a meeting between RPS staff, recently laid off staff and elected officials to discuss ideas to fix the state crisis in school funding.
Shibler has long been chair of a grass roots effort to push Michigan’s legislature to reform school funding, and was in agreement with State Representative Tom Pearce, who attended the meeting, on possible solutions.
“It has to be a combination of cost containment and an increase in funding,” Shibler said.
His ideas, also supported by a group of Michigan CEOs, and other financial boards, are threefold. Cutting costs by requiring all state employees to pay part of the cost of their health benefits, increasing income by lowering the state sales tax to 5.5 percent and applying it to some services, and cutting the Michigan Business Tax are the core of the plan.
“In the national average, public and private employees pay 28 percent of the cost health care,” Pearce said at the meeting.
He and Shibler propose starting with all public employees paying 15 percent, and allowing each district to remain in control of the choice of benefit providers. For Rockford, this would save $1.2 million annually to save jobs.
“Michigan, because of the strong union history, has fought those changes for years,” said Pearce. “This has to come from the state. Districts can’t fight those battles themselves.”
“I anticipate angry response from teachers who say we’ve voted to take pay cuts not to pay part of our health care,” said Shibler. “I understand that. The state will have to keep cutting public safety and corrections on down the line. That’s what is going to happen in the state.”
Shibler also said future cuts in school funding will be devastating if legislatures do not fix the problem. Anticipated cuts on top of those already taken next year would be the equivalent of $600 to $700 per child.
The state proposes cutting another $260 per child, but in addition, the pension contribution for all districts in the state next July 1 will increase 2.5 percent to 19.4 percent of payroll. That will cost Rockford another $1 million immediately.
Health care costs have risen annual by three percent and are likely to rise again by the same amount. Other costs, gasoline, electricity, etc., round out Shibler’s estimate.
Lessening sales tax from six percent to 5.5 and applying it to services, except medical and business to business. “When you get your hair cut, go to the movies, get your car repaired, and many other services, you would pay 5.5 in sales tax.”
Rockford is already reeling from cuts of $4.8 and has let go 18 custodians, security a half dozen secretarial positions as well as other support staff. “We are trying to keep cuts out of the classroom, but that will be next,” Shibler said.
“We have to get out of this structural deficit and making cuts, cuts, cuts…” Shibler stated. “What’s frustrating is there is a solution out there. It has to happen. This is affecting every district in the state.”
Shibler painted a worst-case scenario. “What we will be left with is kids coming to school and learning math, science, social studies and English. That’s unacceptable.”
What hasn’t been part of the cuts, Shibler insists, is the North Rockford Middle School pool. The pool is closed for inspection and repair of plumbing, filtration, heating and other structural systems.
The timing is because of grant money which has to be used now or lost. The position of a pool director at the high school and another at the middle school has been combined into one position, however. He always encourages those with concerns to contact him.
“I am concerned about the fact that they are not willing to listen to the truth,” he said of a vocal minority who insist the pool is permanently closed.
“Solutions have to happen. Landslides of making cuts will continue unless we get a fix.”