November 25, 2014

School districts press on through state aid uncertainty

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ARENAC COUNTY — Schools are scheduled to receive state funding based on student counts by Oct. 20, but with the state school budget just being signed Thursday, it is unknown whether the funds will be delivered on time.

“With the Governor signing the finance package today (Oct. 9), there is indeed a chance that we could get paid on time,” said Standish-Sterling Community Schools District Superintendent Michael Dodge. “But I’m not holding my breath.”

Whether or not the state will deliver the money on time is yet to be seen, but Patrick Bootz, Interim Superintendent for the Arenac Eastern School District, said AE is carrying on normally, whether or not the state is tardy.

“We opened up the doors, we’re going to run it as we told [students and parents] we were going to run it,” Bootz said.

He added that no new programs, or existing ones were affected by the state’s difficulty in passing the school aid budget, which hit public schools with a $165 per pupil reduction in funding.

“The whole program here in AE has been pretty much cut to the bone already,” he said.

AuGres-Sims Superintendent Anne Doriean agreed with Bootz.

“I can’t think of anything specifically that hasn’t started or that was ended because of this,” she said.

She did add, though, that money that is usually freed up at AGS to purchase additional textbooks or extra supplies for classrooms hasn’t been spent.

Dodge and the S-S Board of Education, though, dealt with the state budget shortfall and anticipated cuts throughout the summer, having to put the axe to programs that were annual fixtures for the school district – a pre-k program, building trades, summer school and after-school interventions.

“It has forced us to temporally cut programs and reduce spending in preparation for uncertain funding,” Dodge said.

Doriean said that changing the dates budgets for schools and states are passed, and bringing them into accord, could help in the future, as schools are required to pass a budget by July 1, but the state isn’t expected to pass one until Oct. 1, which didn’t happen this year.

“We’re planning, we get our ducks in a row, then the state doesn’t pass its budget for three months,” she said. “We’re not on the same budget fiscal year. … We are one of only four states that have an Oct. 1 fiscal start for our state government.”

Now, Doriean said, schools are budgeting without knowing the amount of funding coming from the state, which can throw a wrench into the gears of a school district.

“Every time we get one of these pro-rations where they change your funding mid-year, it makes it very difficult,” she said. She added personnel and programs have a greater chance of being eliminated at the last second when the state isn’t swift with its budgeting.

Bootz added that AE funded for $7,200 this year, down from $7,316 last year, which doesn’t cover the whole cut, but did bring the district closer to the recently signed $165 reduction.

“Our budgets have to be passed by July 1 and we’ve been working under that budget,” Bootz said. “Most schools take the worst-case scenario and build their budget,”

The hole left by the state per student cut can be filled, however, but that, too depends on the state government, as it will decide how to use money from the stimulus package and Michigan lottery to offset losses. Some of the money is supposed to be used for the next school year, 2010-2011, as well, but the superintendents would rather it be released now.

“We need it (additional money) now. That’s my personal opinion,” Bootz said.

“I was able to speak to Sen. James Barcia (D – Bay City) personally… the positions that myself, the Superintendent’s Association and most superintendents around the state take is to backfill this hole ($165 reduction per student) with the ARRA (stimulus) money,” Doriean added.

“I would agree,” Dodge said, adding while the money wouldn’t be there next year, there would at least be time to plan. “It allows us to prepare for the hit. ... All this last minute budgeting is hard on our community, staff and our kids.”

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