TRAVERSE CITY — Gov. Rick Snyder said he didn’t know about a secretive education reform work group that included state employees until after news reports of its existence surfaced.
The self-dubbed “skunk works” group included top Snyder aides, business officials from technology and software companies, and Lansing lawyer Richard McLellan, who led past controversial plans to give school funding directly to students. The group contends they worked to develop a low-cost, technology-centered charter school model that would lower operating costs to $5,000 per student, annually. Michigan currently allocates just shy of $7,000 per student annually.
Snyder, speaking at a Record-Eagle editorial board meeting Friday, voiced concerns about the group’s secretive nature and the “skunk works” title.
“From my perspective I’m trying to walk that balance to say these choices probably weren’t so hot,” Snyder said. “They should have known better ... At the same time I want people to know I’m always open to innovation whether it be anyone in state government or anyone walking on the street.”
Snyder identified ballooning retirement costs as the biggest single school funding issue. He said his administration set aside roughly $250 per pupil statewide toward helping districts pay-down retirement costs.
But local district officials pointed out that Snyder’s funding plans allocate more of this money to districts with the highest payroll costs, exacerbating inequitable funding across the state.
“The percentage of payroll model is not a great model for what we have today,” Snyder said. “In a perfect world if you would have redone it, it should have been done differently.”
TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins said state officials could begin to address both retirement cost problems and inequity between districts by sending the lowest-funded districts twice as much money for retirement costs as the highest-funded districts.