by CINDY M. CRANMER
As schools in the Rockford Public Schools (RPS) district prepare for kindergarten round-up meetings, the superintendent has continued to raise concerns about the proposal for all-day, everyday kindergarten classes as it would cost the district an additional $1.8 million.
Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler, PhD, said Rockford will continue “to work hard to provide the best possible education to the students we serve.”
However, he said, in times of the state of Michigan’s financial crisis, a proposal to go to all-day everyday kindergarten will put additional challenges on the school district.
Shibler explained to The Rockford Squire how, despite initial indications that there would be no further cuts, the proposal for all-day, everyday kindergarten would mean additional hardships on districts.
One year ago, the state legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed a two-year School Aid Bill for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 that actually results in less funding per child in 2012-2013 than during the 2005-2006 school year.
School funding was at $6,875 per pupil in 2005-2006 and reached a high of $7,316 in 2008-2009 before being decreased to $7,146 for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 then $7,046 for 2011-2012 and cut to $6,846 for the 2012-2013 school year.
“As you can see, from the highest funding level of $7,316 per child in 2008-2009, Rockford Public Schools will drop $470 per child next year. When factoring in the rising costs of daily operations due to inflation, RPS has been forced to cut $9.6 million from its operating budget since 2009-2010,” Shibler said.
The freeze in wages and salary, which was instituted three years ago, will continue into the 2012-2013 year. Employees also are now contributing 18 percent toward the costs of their health insurance premiums, he said.
“Individually and collectively, Rockford Public Schools has participated in ‘shared sacrifices,’” Shibler said.
Snyder has now publicly stated that he believes cuts to public education are over and schools may start experiencing a slight increase in funding. This, Shibler said, should mean that there would not need to be cuts.
Within the current School Aid bill is a provision to require all school districts to implement all-day everyday kindergarten beginning in 2012-2013, Shibler said. He said many school districts offer kindergarten programs half a day every day or programs for 2.5 days per week.
“The 2012-2013 School Aid Bill will require school districts to provide kindergarten children all-day everyday programs in order to receive full funding for these students,” Shibler explained. “Districts not doing so may stay with the above 2.5 days per week scenario but will see their kindergarten funding cut in half.”
Shibler said implementing all-day, everyday kindergarten will cost an additional $1.8 million to the Rockford school district.
“We would need to employ an additional 17 kindergarten teachers, additional paraprofessionals, additional teachers for specials classes such as art, music, and physical education and purchase additional instructional materials and possibly portable classrooms,” Shibler stated.
However, if the district chooses not to implement all-day everyday kindergarten, RPS will lose $2.4 million in state funding.
“So, in summary, the cost to implement is $1.8 million and the cost to not implement is $2.4 million,” he stated.
Assuming districts are required to implement all-day everyday kindergarten, the added cost to the 2012-2013 budget would equate to $225 per student. This was figured by dividing the $1.8 million by 8,000 students, which equals $225 per student.
“In other words, instead of being cut $470 per student since 2008-2009, we will experience a $695 reduction in funding per student,” Shibler said.
“I am not against the possibility of someday offering several sections of all-day everyday kindergarten for families who are interested in that as an option,” Shibler said. “But how does the state legislature justify requiring significant added costs to Michigan school districts during a state funding crisis?”
“The governor’s belief that districts will not receive additional cuts is a spin when considering the requirement of all-day everyday kindergarten,” Shibler said.
Shibler said because the district has had to significantly reduce staff and programs over the past three years due to cutting the $9.6 million, the added cost of implementing all-day everyday kindergarten at $1.8 million will have to come from staff in grades one through 12 and increased class sizes.
“That is neither fair nor is it acceptable,” Shibler said. “This is again a loss of local control. I have always been a strong supporter of local control and local decisions.”
The Rockford school district is still hoping that the state legislature and Gov. Snyder use their authority to remove the all-day everyday kindergarten requirement from the 2012-2013 School Aid Bill.
“This would lessen districts’ needs to make further cuts,” Shibler said.