This editorial, “Revenue is the Answer to School Closure Problem,” first appeared in the Forum section of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, March 2, 2016.
In 1994, Proposal A withdrew local school districts’ tax authority for operating expenses. They can still levy a millage for capital needs. Currently, 6 mills and some consumer taxes go to the State School Aid Fund. Lansing then distributes Foundation Grants to the local school districts. At the beginning, Proposal A seemed to fulfill its promise, but Michigan public school funding has been essentially flat for a decade. Now, the majority of Michigan’s school districts wrestle with annual budget cuts.
Old Mission Gazette is Reader Supported.
Click Here to Keep the Gazette Going.
Systematic underfunding with no local operating tax authority has pushed districts to repeatedly cut their budgets. In 2015-16, Lansing stepped up enforcement of the state prohibition on local school deficits, including fiscal oversight by the Treasury Department. Last September, the State Superintendent’s report to the Legislature stated:
“The MDE team stresses that because Michigan is a locally controlled state, district officials must make the difficult decisions that will eliminate the deficit.” (Emphasis Added)
In this Orwellian Newspeak, local control is granted the ability to cut school budgets into academic oblivion.
On March 7, the TCAPS Board of Education will vote on closing three elementary schools. Locked into this budget cutting paradigm, TCAPS has spent the last year fixated on another round of closing elementary schools. Since 2001, TCAPS has cut $19 million in operating expenses as part of a budget reduction initiative. The evidence from these actions is overwhelming; closing schools, increasing class size, economizing on transportation, postponing curriculum revision, etc. have not stopped TCAPS’ downward fiscal slide.
Last week, at the conclusion of the third straight board meeting on budget cutting, a palpable sense of resignation pervaded the room. Every fiscal projection shows a downward trajectory.
Increasing revenue is possible regionally. Kalamazoo, Midland and Monroe have instituted Regional Enhancement Millages. Local school districts can request an “enhancement” millage through their Intermediate School Districts. Local school districts need bridge funding until sanity returns to Lansing.
Our local school boards must agree on a rate and term. Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District would place the measure on the next ballot. If a majority of the voters in the region concur, then TBAISD would pass the revenue directly to the 16 school districts. School districts without the need for new operating revenue could proportionally reduce their capital millages to make the proposal revenue neutral. A 1 mill levy would raise $9 million annually for the direct benefit of our children and vaccinate our local school districts against State intervention.
It would take a year to start the revenue flow. In the meantime, TCAPS and other districts must resist academic program cuts and school closures that drive students away. A loss of 100 students costs $739,000 in lost state aid. That’s no way to balance a budget.
Whether you live in TCAPS or another local school district, talk to your local officials about the Michigan’s broken school financing system. A five year, 1 mil Regional Enhancement Millage will give our local school systems breathing room pending a statewide fix. We need to stop the budget cuts, it’s the REVENUE!
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb