Legislature passes school funding budget

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

It took state lawmakers eight days longer than it was supposed to, several nighttime legislative sessions and countless squabbles, but a school aid budget finally was passed late Thursday.

The result: Michigan school districts will receive $165 per pupil less than they received last year. And while the cuts are sure to cause headaches for school administrators across the state, the damage stands significantly less than the $218 per-pupil cuts Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed late in September.

For Dearborn Public Schools, the loss in funding is about $3 million dollars. In Dearborn Heights, where the student populations are smaller, Crestwood School District lost about $575,000; Westwood Community School District about $413,000 and School District 7 about $470,000.

But the cuts don’t come without caveats. The approved budget relies on $100 million in new revenues through closing tax loopholes and other revenue-generating proposals, such as allowing bars to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. for a $1,500 fee. Those measures have yet to be realized.

Also on Thursday, the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency reported state tax revenues were down $130 million from projections issued in May. Legislators have been using the May projections, a significant portion of which goes to school funding, in their budget formulations.

The revenue uncertainties are what led Rep. Robert Constan (D-Dearborn Heights) to vote no on the budget.

“If those (revenue proposals) aren’t realized, we won’t have the money to fund this budget and probably will have to make pro-rata cuts in January,” he said.

State Rep. Gino Polidori (D-Dearborn) shared Constan’s concern, but decided to vote for the budget because he said it was too good a deal to pass on.

After initial proposals called for roughly $6.5 million in cuts to two DPS categorical funds that are not related to the per-pupil figure, the final budget reflected only $1.5 million in cuts to those funds.

“They reinstated my at-risk funding and only cut it 25 percent,” Polidori said. “They also restored the 20-J funding (which returns money to so-called “donor districts”), so I can’t really be crying like a lot of other cities. I really couldn’t vote this down in hopes of a better deal.”

DPS spokesman David Mustonen said the district was encouraged with the size of the cuts, given the comparatively larger figures that were discussed previously. But some worry that the less-than-projected cuts might be just putting off today’s problem until next year’s budget.

“We’re still a little concerned about if they’re just going to backfill it in next year, because the revenue situation is really still an unknown,” Mustonen said.

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