BY JOHN KENNETT
A concern regarding Section 31a funding for at-risk pupils precipitated Midland Public Schools Board President Jerry Wasserman and Superintendent Mike Sharrow to sit down Monday with state Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, and state Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township.
“Proposal A has provided, through the years, more and more problems for the Midland Public Schools,” Wasserman said. “It is to the point where the state’s very good school districts, I would include Midland in that, are getting hugely stressed in the funding area. We are getting increases that are essentially zilch.”
Monday’s meeting was to hear about an amendment to the House appropriations bill that Glenn will be proposing, which would see funding follow individual students rather than be given to school districts.
“... We currently have a policy of funding ‘at-risk districts’ rather than ‘at-risk children,’ but my amendment seeks to put the emphasis back on the individual child,” Glenn stated in a letter to Kelly.
With approximately 7,900 students, MPS includes 1,800 at-risk students, which doesn’t meet the state requirement of 50 percent to receive certain funding.
“You’ve got money for at-risk children, it ought to follow the individual child and not be divvied up when the district hits a certain threshold,” Wasserman said.
Beaverton, with 600 total students in the district, has 300 at-risk kids, which qualifies it for at-risk funding.
“People sit there and think of ‘wealthy Midland,’” Wasserman said. “We have almost 30 percent with free or reduced lunch. People in town are amazed at the amount of at-risk kids. If I got to put interventions in for kids, it costs me money.”
The fact that MPS has a “hold-harmless” millage also prevents the district from receiving money under Section 31a.
“...‘Hold-harmless’ (districts) were allowed to levy additional mills to make up the difference between the state maximum foundation allowance and the combined state and local revenue per pupil the district had previously received before Proposal A was passed into law,” Glenn’s letter to Kelly also stated.
For MPS that fixed amount is $417.
“That percentage was 6 mills in 1995, but 20 years later, that 6 mills is about 1.7 mills,” Wasserman said.
The difference has not kept pace with costs and inflation, causing the shortfall.
“The bigger story on that, between the hold-harmless and the 18-mill non-homestead, that our voters approved, you guys don’t backfill that,” Sharrow said. “At this point, we’re paying for other school districts. A portion of it is not coming back.”
Sharrow provided data from the state that Midland taxpayers provide $3,601 per pupil, which ranks 112th out of 829 public school districts. From the state, MPS receives $6,310, which is 664th. Total funding per pupil has MPS at 164th.
The data also reported that general fund expenditures per pupil equal $5,377 for basic programs, which is 99th; added programs is $1,576 or 101st; total instruction is $6,953 or 77th; and $6,455 for instructional salaries and benefits, or 61st.
Per pupil support services are instructional, $1,175 or 100th; business and administration, $975 or 707th; and operations and maintenance, $730 or 632nd.
Other data provided by Sharrow showed that MPS received $4 less per pupil in the 2014-2015 budget year than the previous year.
“Even though you paid more into MPSERS (Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System), which I can’t argue, you cut so many other areas that we ended up with a negative $4 where our neighboring school districts were plus-$200 per student,” Sharrow said. “(Fiscal year 2015-2016), the Senate plan would give me no new dollars, the governor’s plan is $15 and, at best, the House is $25 more.”
Sharrow and Wasserman found support from Kelly, who is the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid.
“I’m not unsympathetic to this. I think the money should follow the child,” said Kelly, whose 94th District includes Tittabawassee, Thomas and Saginaw townships, and encircles the City of Saginaw to the south and east, including Birch Run and Frankenmuth.
Kelly stated that the budget has been passed out of the appropriations committee, but there’s still time to add Glenn’s amendment.
“My guess, the (House) budget will go without this and once it gets to the floor, we can do something there,” Kelly said. “More than likely it is done in reconciling the two budgets (House and Senate).”
But even then, with only 10 percent of the state’s school districts affected, it could be difficult to pass.
“We hope to bring this amendment up for a vote,” Glenn said. “You have about 10 percent of the districts in this position. The other 90 percent, whether we can get legislators from those districts to vote for this, that’s the point.”