Muskegon Public Schools Superintendent Prepares Public For Unprecedented State Funding Changes

Andrew Trzaska | February 22, 2012

Muskegon’s Board of Education and Superintendent opted to prepare those at Tuesday evening’s board meeting for the worst in next year’s budget picture.

Last year the district stared down a $10 million budget deficit, and this year will have to tighten their belts another $4.7 million.

The culprit, according to Superintendent Jon Felske: proposed changes in funding from the State of Michigan.

“Looking at next year, we are not budgeting down any students,” said Felske. “It’s 4.7 million dollars less with the same number of students.”

“It is just a mathematical equation that does not bode well for us.”

Felske explained some of the dynamics involved in the state government’s changes.  When education funding used to be spread across kindergarten to 12th grade, Felske explained that K-12 spectrum has been expanded to “P-20” or preschool through graduate schools.

“[The state government] can move it anywhere, which could include local community colleges and universities,” said Felske.

Giving off a sense of simmering displeasure with the State of Michigan, Felske urged the district’s community to realize the unprecedented nature of the situation and not point fingers in the wrong direction: “Nobody did anything wrong here. The people who made the rules changed the rules.”

“This has never happened in the history of public education in the State of Michigan.”

Felske provided two examples of proposed funding changes that could hurt Muskegon Public Schools in the coming year.

First: Changes in a funding item known as the Small Class Size reimbursement might put the district out $936,000. The district has received this reimbursement for over a decade, but is likely to be eliminated in Governor’s proposed budget, which will be passed in the next few months.

Second: Kindergarten funding.  Previously, the State of Michigan allowed Muskegon’s full-time kindergarten teachers to be partially funded by the district’s Title I dollars. Now, the State is looking to make districts statewide pay for it differently, pushing the Muskegon Public Schools’ general fund balance down as much as $837,000.  Felske expressed additional frustration at this change, because Muskegon’s “due diligence” in providing full-day kindergarten previously has essentially come back to hurt them with these funding changes.

Combined, these two changes account for nearly $2 million of the expected $4.7 million in needed cuts projected.  Felske stressed these numbers are all still up in the air because the State budget has not been set in stone yet:

“If you 40% of your deficit in your life could change with one phone call… we have to be prepared for worst-case scenario.”

Board president Rev. Louis Churchwell said the changes would require the district to think differently in the coming years:

“The school districts that have the ability to reinvent themselves will survive,” said Churchwell.  “Those who do not reinvent themselves…. We don’t want to be in those ranks.”

Other board members expressed conference in the district’s financial team, who faced a $10 million deficit last year.

“I think we truly have to applaud our financial team,” said board Vice President Cindy Larson. “We’ve got people at the helm of that that we trust and are doing an impossible job.”

Other funding sources discussed at Tuesday’s meeting including a technology millage through the MAISD for technology improvements, equaling a little over $100 per student in the coming years if it passes on the ballot later this year.  Felske explained the cultural and educational necessity of this 1 mill initiative:

“Those students who are in K-12 now are not going to live the lives we live – they have always had technology. We need to be mindful of that.”

Based on a public comment, Felske also dispelled rumors that the district would not participate in schools of choice.  The district will continue to accept students.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst