Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 12, 2013

School officials blast state Sen. Walker over budget proposal

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials blasted local state Sen. Howard Walker over a budget proposal that threatens to cut TCAPS funding by $410,000.

“I cannot support this budget,” TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins wrote in a message to Walker. “The impact will force our Board of Education to eliminate programs that our parents and students value highly and regard as essential. A reduction in our unrestricted funds for 2014, following years of cuts, is unthinkable.”

Walker chairs the Senate School Aid Subcommittee, which approved the budget on Wednesday.

The subcommittee’s plan raises minimum foundational grant funding by $100 to $7,066 per student and increases equity payments by $34 per pupil for the lowest funded schools in the state. But it also reduces or eliminates state dollars for, among other things, technology infrastructure and best practices incentives, and increases the retirement costs paid by districts.

Walker, a Republican, said the foundational and equity increases help TCAPS overall.

“Our budget is a net increase to TCAPS and those school districts at the lower funding level,” Walker said.

TCAPS Board of Education President Kelly Hall disagreed.

“That’s absolutely false and he’s trying to play a shell game,” Hall said. “His budget has us reduced by $41 per student.”

TCAPS Chief Financial Officer Paul Soma said the foundational and equity increases are positive changes, but Walker’s proposal must be viewed in its totality.

“The problem is when you read the rest of the act, it got the money from other areas of the budget we rely on,” Soma said, adding, “the bottom line for us is a $41 shortfall per student.”

The subcommittee’s budget will head to the Senate Appropriations Committee within the next two weeks.

It can be amended or changed as it heads through the Appropriations Committee and eventually to the Senate floor, Walker said.

“At each step there are opportunities to have changes made, which I am open to,” Walker said. “But I’m also committed to living within our means.”

Budget proposals from Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan’s House of Representatives cut funding to TCAPS by $300,000 and $510,000, respectively.

Hall called the three budgets “unconscionable.”

“It’s like trying to suck more marrow out of our bones,” she said. “They can try to characterize it however they want, but they are cutting funding from K-12 education, and districts like TCAPS are suffering the most.”

The varying budget proposals will be reconciled and voted on by both houses of the legislature before heading to Snyder’s office for final approval in June.

TCAPS has cut more than $11.4 million from its budget since 2008. The district still faces a $1.5 million shortfall this year, and expects to incur an additional $750,000 in retirement costs over the next two years.

The district will face a true deficit by 2016 absent any significant changes to state revenue streams, TCAPS officials said.

“If nothing changes we will be in a position of having to file a deficit elimination plan with the state in two years,” Soma said.