Outgoing superintendent is concerned about K-12 school funding

Michigan lawmakers are trying to get the fiscal 2015 state budget completed before they go on summer recess. K-through-12 school funding is one of the featured items up for consideration. ABC 10 senior reporter Mike Hoey looked into the complex issue and now brings us that story.

The Negaunee Public Schools have their budget hearing coming up at their June 23rd Board of Education meeting. It’ll be the final budget hearing that superintendent Jim Derocher will be involved with.

“We’re looking at a budget of just over $13 million, and of that, almost 87% is dependent upon the state,” Derocher said. “As we make our best guess for a budget for next year — and that’s exactly what it is; it’s a guess — I have to say that in Negaunee, we’ve been lucky over the years. We went through an enrollment decline, but now it’s kind of leveled off and come back a little bit for us, which has helped us.”

He’s predicting that the combined enrollment of Negaunee High School, Negaunee Middle School and Lakeview Elementary will be about 1,500 students. Derocher specifically thinks the final tally will be slightly above that mark.

State Representative Bill Rogers of Brighton is a member of the Michigan House Appropriations Committee and he chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Rogers knows many districts are having a hard time and he says Lansing is trying to help.

“In the four years we’ve had the budget and been responsible for it, we have increased funding,” Rep. Rogers said. “But that’s not the only money that schools get. Foundation (allowance) is an easy one for everybody, probably, to understand, but there’s a lot of categoricals. There’s a lot of federal money that comes in but is for a specific purpose, so that is not just the only money that the education system has.”

“But they don’t tell you that it also costs us more money, because they’ve taken things and now require the schools to pay for those things,” Derocher said. “We’re not being funded at a rate that would account for that inflation over the years, especially with the cost of health insurance, with the cost of a retirement that we have to pay. I don’t care if you’re teachers, support staff, bus drivers, whatever. They’re seeing their paychecks shrink.”

Rogers says much of the problem comes from Michigan’s population. It’s increasing slowly right now, but Michigan is the only U.S. state to have lost residents since 2000.

“And since 2003, we have lost student population, when we peaked at 1.7 million kids,” he said. “We’re currently at slightly less than the number of kids that we had in 1994. When you’re really looking at it, we also can’t afford to keep funding a system at its peak. It just simply doesn’t work.

One other budgetary change in the last five years has been difficult to deal with as well.

“When we (Republicans) took over the budget, we had a substantial amount of stimulus money that went away,” Rogers said. “The day that our committee sat down for the first time, we were handed, basically, a bill saying, ‘you’ve got to balance this budget, your checking account, and by the way, you no longer have that federal money, so go to it’, so it wasn’t exactly an ideal situation.”

“It’s just an interesting cycle that we’ve gone through with the start of Proposal A back in 1994 to where we are now, 20 years later,” Derocher said. “If they would have left all of the funding sources in Proposal A that were in the package when it was first introduced and passed, we wouldn’t be talking about this anymore. There’s a formula in there for funding students on a per-pupil foundation. The state has not followed that funding pattern.”

Derocher is retiring from the Negaunee superintendent position at the end of June.