Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Layoffs, other cuts confront local schools

By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Service

LANSING – Talk in the capital and across the state is whether schools will have to make more layoffs to fit next year’s budget.

Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association, said decisions about cuts depend on each school district. The MEA is the state’s largest union of school employees.

“It’s disheartening that any cuts have to be made,” Salters said.

She said that salaries are based on the number of people while a school district budget is based on workforce.

“We can’t do one-size-fits-all, and that’s what our legislators are trying to do,” Salters said. “One-size cuts are not the solution because once you make the cut, you can’t do it again because it doesn’t create a building block for improvement.”

It’s not only large urban districts that are feeling the pinch, she said.

For example, Montabella School District laid off four teachers in 2009.

This year, 19 more teachers could receive pink slips, said Superintendent Ron Farrell.

Cuts will be made by seniority and certification. There is a chance that some may be called back over the summer, he said

The school district covers parts of Montcalm, Mecosta and Isabella counties. Bus transportation for the district covers 1,200 miles per day.

Farrell said the district will cut sports and transportation but is considering other areas also.

“We are studying areas, and cuts have to be approved by the board,” Farrell said.

Farrell said layoffs are due to a lack of state aid and a loss of students.

The district was hit hard due to the closing of a nearby plant. Many families left in search of work, reducing the number of students in the district, said Farrell.

A Better Michigan Future coalition of 35 organizations advocates a balanced approach to the state’s budget problems.

The coalition’s main focus includes a graduated income tax, auditing government contracts and closing tax.

Cyndi Roper, campaign director for the coalition, said the state gave $35 billion in tax incentives to corporations while state revenue was $26 billion last year.

She said whether the tax credits increase jobs is still unproven.

The coalition wants to eliminate tax incentives and loopholes for companies that don’t create or retain jobs.

“At a time like this, we need to focus on creating jobs,” Roper said.

Michigan is one of seven states with a flat-rate tax where every taxpayer pays the same rate.

John Helmholdt, director of communications for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said the state has been making short-term financial decisions for 10 years.

“The education model of 1908 is broken and is not for the 21st century,” said Helmholdt.

Last fall, the Grand Rapids Public Schools board pink-slipped 195 teachers.

The board also cut the preschool program in half due to lack of funds.

Doug Pratt, director of communications at the MEA, said the union will talk to candidates for governor this year about tax and school problems.

How each candidate responds will decide whom the union supports.

“The next governor is going to inherit a huge financial problem,” said Pratt. “We have to make necessary approaches on the tax structure.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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