Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 12, 2013

School officials blast state Sen. Walker over budget proposal

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.

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