TRAVERSE CITY — Local school officials are headed to Lansing to lobby state leaders and lawmakers over their concerns with Gov. Rick Snyder’s most recent budget proposal.
The delegates will travel downstate Wednesday, about one week after Snyder unveiled his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal that calls for nearly a 3 percent increase in K-12 funding, including payments toward pension and retiree health care costs and a $100 average bump in per-pupil foundational allowances — the backbone of local districts’ operational dollars.
Suttons Bay Public Schools Superintendent Michael Murray said that additional funding will help local schools, but it doesn’t offset education funding decreases that occurred over the last half-decade.
“The question I have to ask myself is ‘are we better off now than we were five years ago?’” Murray said. “ And the answer would have to be ‘no.’”
Each district’s per-pupil funding increase under Snyder’s proposal depends on where that district falls along the state’s foundational allowance spectrum, according to the State Budget Office.
A district that received the basic foundational amount in fiscal year 2014 — just shy of $8,050 per student -- would get an $83 per-student bump. Districts like Suttons Bay, which received the minimum foundational amount of about $7,075 per student, would see a $111 per-student increase.
Murray said that would translate to about $62,000 total for Suttons Bay Public Schools, money the district would allocate toward “basic expenses.”
“We’re not going to go out and start any new programs or hire any new staff with that,” Murray said.
Kalkaska Public Schools can expect roughly the same increase. Lee Sandy, the district’s superintendent, said the new dollars won’t replace the roughly $500 or $600 in per-pupil cuts implemented during Snyder’s tenure that came about, in part, because of state business tax cuts and the allocation of state School Aid money to colleges and universities.
But Sandy, one of the officials headed to Lansing, isn’t complaining.
“I’m not going to complain about getting an increase,” he said. “That would be foolish.”
Paul Soma, Traverse City Area Public Schools associate superintendent of finance & operations, said TCAPS expects a per-pupil funding increase of roughly $100 under Snyder’s plan. But TCAPS administrators will question state officials about plan details -- including where retirement system payments will come from and where exactly they’ll go -- when they visit Lansing. The devil often is in such details, Soma said.
“All that said, we’re pleased,” Soma said. “We think right now this is one of the better, if not the best, early proposals we’ve seen in years.”
Local officials also said Snyder’s budget doesn’t do enough to close the funding gap between the state’s highest- and lowest-funded districts. It’s a topic they’ll bring up in Lansing during meetings with officials, including state Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who chairs the Senate’s K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
Walker, who will not seek reelection when his term expires at the end of this year, said he, too, has questions about equity and the direct retirement system payments. Walker said he’s concerned the payments will be more beneficial to the state’s highest-funded districts, thereby increasing the equity gap between the richest and poorest schools in Michigan.
Walker said the education appropriations subcommittee’s first hearing will focus on funding equity and “how all these pieces flush out.”
The ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.