The limits of serving on my local school board

Is it a surprise that school boards often struggle to find willing entrants to the arenas of local politics? A good look at how Michigan funds public schools and the mechanics of local school district budgets can help diagnose the problem.

Before the passage of Proposal A in the mid-1990s, local school boards held full control of almost all operating and economic issues. They could go to voters at any time to seek millage increases. If finances became tight, or employee contracts expanded, school boards put it to the voters.

Property-tax levy proposals were common and mostly approved. That was the good news. The bad news was that Michigan property taxes exceeded the national average by 34 percent. Aside from a tax climate that was proving non-competitive, spending disparities among school districts worsened. Wealthy districts’ per-pupil spending exceeded poor districts’ by as much as three-to-one.

What would happen in a poor community when voters had enough? We found out in 1993 in Kalkaska. That district-wide shutdown in the middle of the school year set Proposal A’s passage into motion. Prop A aimed to solve these problems.

Prop A took away the option of raising taxes locally. The state now sets per-pupil funding. This allowed it to, over time, address spending disparities. We see evidence even in this year’s School Aid Fund proposal; it raises per-pupil revenue for lower-revenue districts by $120, and $60 for higher-revenue districts.

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David Waymire
Thu, 05/19/2016 - 11:06am
More fundamentally, in the last decade, school aid is up 6.6 percent while inflation is up 13.7 percent. Inflation affecting schools, particularly health care costs, pension costs due to past underfunding, etc. is likely up even more. Perhaps additional resources would be helpful. Nobody wants to be part of a failing enterprise, and the way we treat our public services today, they are virtually all failing enterprises. And if the issue is falling pupil numbers, Grosse Point schools could remedy that quickly by opening their doors to Detroit families who would like to be part of a successful district.
Mon, 05/23/2016 - 10:37am
You say: And if the issue is falling pupil numbers, Grosse Point schools could remedy that quickly by opening their doors to Detroit families who would like to be part of a successful district. And why would Gross Point want to dilute their student population with under performers from a culture incompatible with the values of Gross Point parents? White flight hd/has a sound basis in the cultural survival of upper class academically oriented folks.
Thu, 05/19/2016 - 8:03pm
You didn't discuss the disastrous effect charter schools and management companies have had on traditional public schools.Millions of dollars, and thousands of students are sucked out of the system. Add to that the amount of money going to cyber learning companies And now the legislature wants to fund private schools for special ed. programs. School professionals, including board members need to get a grip on what's really been going on for years....the destruction of the public school system.
Fri, 05/20/2016 - 1:50pm
Yah!!!! How dare parents choose an option for their kids other than the NEA/MEA, bureaucrat, politician approved and mandated educational outlet. While we're at it, as your comrade Bernie says why have more than one option for deodorant .... or ketchup, auto, beer, hot dogs, blue jeans, airlines, paper towels and every other consumer product or service? We need to let the really smart experts make these decisions for us and quit the whining!
Mon, 05/23/2016 - 8:53am
Sometimes we pay for services we don't like or personally need. Fire protection, public libraries, and infrastructural improvements far from our home are also paid by taxes no matter if you actually use them or not. Schools are no different as you you subsidize your public schools and universities with your taxes even if you don't ever use them. You can choose a different district, home school, or a private school. Sometimes we pay for services that benefit our whole community no matter our personal level of use. Get over it and act like an adult.
Jim H
Fri, 05/20/2016 - 7:02am
Local school board control is mostly a charade. To a large extent boards are powerless instruments of the state. Nearly anything they might want to do is controlled or limited by hundreds of state or federal laws and regulations, union contracts, etc. Why would anyone want to be in a responsible position when your power to do anything significant is severely limited. Have your own curriculum? Nope. Be able to fire incompetent teachers? Nope. Eliminate the endless and mostly worthless testing? Think again. Even have your own policies on something as trivial as bussing? Nope. So sign me up - I have lots of time to waste.
Robert Burgess
Fri, 05/20/2016 - 6:45pm
Actually, school boards do important work. School Boards hire the Superintendent, the "ship's captain". School Boards are also the final decision makers on important student discipline matters including expulsion hearings. School Boards approve the district's budget (maintaining, expanding, or contracting programs) and strategic plan. School Boards set district policies on busing, extra curricular activities, and many more. School Boards approve bond issue or sinking fund ballot initiatives. Having sat through hundreds of school board meetings in my career, I can tell you that they are not often exciting. But then approving zoning ordinances and parking fines or garbage collection fees at municipalities ain't exactly sexy either. (Important but not sexy) School Boards are important leaders in their local or intermediate school districts. In my career in education, I am proud to say that I served under many outstanding community leaders. Rob Burgess Past President Michigan School Business Officials
Bob Balwinski
Fri, 05/20/2016 - 8:25pm
I asked the AMA if I could be on their Board. They asked if I was a doctor and when I said no I was told I couldn't be on the Board of the AMA. I asked the ABA if I could be on their Board. They asked if I was a lawyer and when I said no I was told I couldn't be on the Board of the ABA. I smartened up and called my local Board of Education and told them ahead of time that I was NOT an educator. I asked if I could be on their Board and they said, "Sure!" Anybody see a problem here?????