State cuts impact district

Brian Whiston

Brian Whiston

This is the time of year when we typically talk about the academic achievement and success taking place in the district. The time of year when we emphasize that every day, every school is deeply engaged in the mission of this district, the education of students. However, over the last several weeks one topic has been consuming our time, the funding cuts from Lansing and the cuts we must make in our budget.

In order to bring our budget in line with projected revenue reductions from the state, the Board of Education approved a budget plan for 2009-10 that included more than $10 million in reductions. Since July, we have been anticipating further cuts from the state and, in October, the governor signed a budget that included deep cuts to education. These are not “proposed cuts” or “planned cuts” these cuts have occurred at the state level. November payments made to the district from the state already include these reductions in funding. The following dollar amounts show how much the state has cut funding to Dearborn for the 2009-10 school year.

31a At-Risk (cut from state) $1.5 m
$165 per pupil (cut from state) $3.0 m
20j (vetoed by governor) $5.0 m
$127 per pupil cut (cut from state) $2.3 m
Total $11.8 m or $639 per student

Lawmakers and the governor are still debating the current funding crisis prompting some to ask why not wait until there is news from Lansing before moving forward with cuts. The longer we wait, the more cuts we need to make. Reducing a $50,000 cost at the beginning of the year will only save $37,500 a quarter of the way into the year. If Lansing is able to restore all or some of the funding, then the district will be able to restore some positions. The state has cut this district $11.8 million. That is how it stands right now and we must act accordingly.

On Oct. 27, I led a group of parents and staff members to Lansing to discuss funding. From the relationships that I developed with those who work at the Capitol, our group was able to meet with the governor’s top education advisors: Senate Majority Leader Michael Bishop; House Speaker Andy Dillon; Rep. Tim Melton, chairman of the House Education Committee; and Dearborn state Rep. Gino Polidori.

Later that week the governor called me directly to talk about the funding situation. I continued to have conversations with lawmakers in Lansing and recommended to Speaker Dillon a proposal that would restore at least half of the 20j funds. Later that week the House of Representatives approved a bill that restores half of the 20j money and reduces the per-student funding cuts. That bill now sits in the Senate waiting for its action.

Our parents are also putting the pressure on Lansing and have sent thousands of letters to lawmakers. The PTSA took it upon themselves to charter buses and take part in a multi-district rally held in Lansing on Nov. 10. Students took similar action a few weeks later. Our efforts to persuade Lansing are not over but we cannot pretend that the devastating economic times in this state will never impact schools. We must prepare for all financial scenarios that might play out this year and next.

For more than six years this district has been making cuts, over $35 million in reductions since 2003. Everyone in this community is tired of program reductions, loss of services to children and fewer staff. I understand this fatigue. I agree that the continued reductions are not good for our schools. Most of all, I sympathize with all of those who have been impacted by these hard economic times. I have heard from parents and staff who feel that I am responsible for cutting $11.8 million from Dearborn. They do not believe that the state has cut funding when, in fact, they have. As superintendent, it is part of my job to deliver a balanced budget even if I am forced to do it with an $11.8 million funding reduction from the state of Michigan.

I do not want to cut a single person from this district and, if anybody feels that I enjoy cutting staff members or am doing this for some other purpose, then they really don’t know me. In fact, I have been asked several times to consider moving toward the privatization of jobs, a course of action being considered by many school districts in the metropolitan Detroit area. We will not move in this direction, but instead continue to work with our employee groups to find ways to reduce costs and save jobs.

In hopes of providing the public with more information about the budget process, the specifics of the 2009-10 budget, insight into the 2010-11 budget, and give residents an opportunity to share their views and comments, I would like to invite members of our community to attend one of three town hall meetings being scheduled for the first and second week of December. Times and locations will be posted on the district Web site and shared with local media outlets.

All around the country people have been losing jobs or taking concessions to save jobs. Schools across the state are now facing this same issue. Remember, a majority of school funding (75 percent) comes from sales tax and property tax, two areas that have been hit hard in our state. The lottery contributes less then 5 percent to the school aid fund. We are being told that there will be more cuts from the state next year as well, up to $600 per student. We cannot ignore these projections. We cannot look at just a quick fix to get us by and then in a few months go through this all over again. We are trying to make changes that will help us this year and in the years to follow.