No band, buses or sports? Budget cuts could cripple Michigan schools

Facing huge budget cuts from the state, Michigan schools are pinning hopes on federal stimulus funding to stave off layoffs and program eliminations.

Michigan schools will face devastating budget cuts in the coming school year unless the federal government pitches in to help offset revenue losses from the coronavirus pandemic, State Superintendent Michael Rice said Thursday.

Michigan schools face a $2.39 billion decline in the school aid fund over the next year and a half because of a plummet in state tax revenue attributed to the state lockdown and high unemployment. 

Next year alone, schools face a $1 billion shortfall, which is the equivalent of a $685 slash in per-student funding. That’s an 8.4 percent cut from the $8,111 per student most schools received from the state in the 2019-20 school year.

The biggest previous cut in per-student funding was $470, in 2011.

School officials around the state say the budget shortfall could be catastrophic absent federal intervention, with discussions of cuts that likely will include layoffs, pay decreases and elimination of some student programs.

Overall, Michigan tax revenues are forecast to drop $6.2 billion in the next two years, prompting state officials from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to school officials to turn to the U.S. government for help.

In the past two week,s school leaders have turned to social media and virtual town halls to ask families to lobby congressional representatives for an education bailout.

Before Thursday, Rice had not called a press conference in the more than 10 months he’d held the state’s top school post. Rice used his first press conference to make a case for federal help.

“Even a billion dollar cut would be an enormous cut for our schools and our children,” Rice said. “We underfund public education in Michigan now. And now we’re staring at the possibility of additional cuts. It’s unacceptable.

“No child asks to grow up during a pandemic, and no child’s education should be harmed because they’re growing up in a pandemic,” Rice said.

With budgets for the 2020-21 school year required by July 1, school districts across the state are struggling to make draconian cuts.

A survey of Upper Peninsula superintendents, conducted this week by Norway-Vulcan Superintendent Lou Steigerwald, found districts considering layoffs and the elimination of high school elective classes, extracurricular activities and sports.

Kevin Polston, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools near Grand Rapids, said the impact of large budget cuts on Michigan schools would be “dire.”

Polston’s district this week sent layoff notices to all its support staff — secretaries, bus drivers and paraprofessionals who help out in classrooms.

“Our hope is we can call them all back, and we know we’ll call some back, but there’s so much uncertainty now,” Polston said. “It feels like we’re driving blind at this point. The impact (on Michigan schools) is far greater than any financial crisis we’ve faced in this generation.”

For Novi Public Schools in Oakland County, a $700 per-pupil cut in state funding is the equivalent of the pay and benefits for 67 teachers, said R.J. Webber, assistant superintendent of academic services.

Districts are anticipating increased costs to make schools safe during the pandemic, such as boosting sanitation, possible remote learning and staggered schedules, while also building budgets that assume large cuts, Webber said.

“If you look at things that make schools part of the community – band, orchestra, athletics – all those things are on the table,” Webber said. “A kindergarten class with 23 kids last year could be faced with 33 kids.

“Some people who have never been educators, they think we’re crying wolf,” Webber said. “But you’re talking about the hollowing out of schools.”

Randy Liepa, superintendent of Wayne Intermediate School District, called a $700 per pupil cut “unfathomable.”

Layoffs would be inevitable at the worst possible time — when class sizes need to be reduced to allow for social distancing, Liepa said. “I guess you could completely stop [school bus] transportation,” Liepa said.

“Do the math: We need help from the feds on this.”

School officials are hoping Congress passes a fourth coronavirus stimulus bill that includes billions of dollars for schools across the U.S.

The likelihood of that federal aid is uncertain.

“It’s a fraught moment,” Rice said. “It’s a moment when all of us need to make clear to Washington that they need to produce, and they need to work hard and make sure children aren’t harmed because they happened to be growing up in a pandemic.”

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Barry Visel
Thu, 06/04/2020 - 9:25pm

Regarding the possible need for staff cuts, I think I’d start with any job title with “assistant” in front of it. Assistant Superintendent , Assistant Principal , etc., rather than support positions who actually work with students. Then I’d take a look at the “RESA’s” where, aside from special education, I suspect a lot of cutting could occur.

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 11:44pm

The well-funded districts (and with additional voted millages) have enough reserves to maintain the arts, busing and sports. Those struggling are the ones that will be hurt the most. So when parents pull their kids out of those schools for non-public private or the charter schools, public schools will be hurt even more.

Sun, 06/07/2020 - 8:06pm

Agree, Grand Blanc passed an $89 Million millage to rebuild the athletic fields and stadium. Since "it is too dangerous" to engage in such sports due the virus, just put that money to the three Rs.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 8:22am

First the state needs to stop illegally funding privet schools!!!
And WERE is all that lotto money going<<< to the general fund then to the republicans pockets?

Sun, 06/07/2020 - 6:06pm

There is no funds that go to our Private School. I am a parent of a student who attends private school and the yearly cost TO ME is over $12,000 per school year. I also still have to pay through my house property taxes "A SCHOOL TAX" even though my child does not attend or reap any benefits from that public school system. It is my family choice to send and invest in my students academics to a private school. But to say to stop illegally funding private schools when they are supported by paying parents with tuition is misinformation.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 8:39am

How about we give every teacher concerned with his/her health an n95 mask to wear. Seriously. Instead of masking the healthy people who need social development. I’m sure some company can develop a clear mask, so we can see teacher’s faces. Then, if they are worried, go for it. Wear your mask for protection.

Academics only.
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 9:28am

It is appropriate for the schools to cut band, theater, choir, athletics, and any other program that is not academically oriented. The extra programs should be funded by the parents of the child that participated through a user fee. The roll of the school is to teach academics, not how to catch a ball.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 12:08pm

I think the state, just like Nancy Pelosi, is trying to load everything into their coffers and blame it on the pandemic. In reality, the pandemic struck in early February. Many continued to work from home, and receive their normal paycheck. Of those that were laid off, some even made more than they earned when working due to UI and federal stimulus funds. I haven’t seen any cuts in property taxes, and on the contrary, many local governments are crying poor and trying to use this as an excuse to raise the property tax. Just this morning, there was an article that said Michigan was in the top 3 states for bringing jobs back. Yes, Michigan probably had some revenue drops, but they also got increased revenue from federal sources, which when you think of it, those federal sources are just you and me digging deeper into our pockets. I think all this crying is just another liberal trick of never letting a good catastrophe go to waste.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 12:45pm

While I appreciate that schools are feeling hard-pressed by the prospect of budget cuts, cutting team sports is the very first thing they should do in a budget crunch. The cost of equipment, extra pay for coaches and insurance are very high compared to the value for the realtively few students who are allowed to participate at the high school level. Instead, every student should have a PE class every semester, with as much outdoor time is possible given the weather and the facilities available. That will help to reduce risk of infection, since outdoor activities are less conducive to viral spread.

On the other hand, choir, band, orchestra, and drama *classes* will be as valuable and necessary as ever, even if concerts and plays cannot be produced during the 2020-21 school year due to either costs or health department restrictions on audiences. If performances are possible, the school system should not have to pay teachers extra to support rehearsals and performances, but count that in lieu of the much less time spent grading papers or other homework for those classes. Self-supporting, academic and career-oriented extra-curricular activities such as school newspapers, yearbooks, Academic Games, Science Olympiad, Lego League, and FIRST Robotics teams should be relieved of the very widespread requirement to pay teacher overtime / points money / extra duty funding to be allowed to meet at school if they find either teachers or background-checked volunteers to assume those roles. These academically-linked extra-curricular activities are much less expensive for both schools and parents, and more inclusive than sports teams are. They are a valuable part of the going-to-school experience for many, many students.

At the height of the Baby Boom in the 1970's, many schools went to split shifts for their students, with half the students starting in the morning and another half starting 3-4 hours later. Individual teachers were assigned to teach plus a prep and/or lunch period for a continuous 5.5 or 6.5 hours per day. Any All-School events and many club/activity group meetings were scheduled during the mid-day overlap period. It's different from what some people are used to, but quite managable. It also makes many more extra-curricular activities accessible to students who ride the bus, without requiring rides from prents, car pools, or special buses after school.

And last but not least, instead of the time spent prepping for and administering standardized tests, for the coming year schools need to do intake testing, re-assign students as necessary to their appropriate grade level per subject, and teach/reteach the material starting from wherever the students are.

Marlene lott
Sat, 06/06/2020 - 12:01pm

I'm one of those who had a split day at school in the 2nd and 3rd grades. And 4,5 and 6 started separating classes based on individual levels. I certainly HOPE you are somehow involved in these changes you mention.

She Owns This
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 4:34pm

Just throw an additional $1.50 tax on every gallon of gasoline sold in the state. Should be enough to make up for the lost revenue Governor Karen unnecessarily cost the state and enough to fix the damn roads, too. If not, make it $2.50.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 7:05pm

Some of this lies on the Governor's decision to keep the state closed with the continued stay at home order. You would have thought that she knew revenues were going to be impacted by keeping everybody home and businesses closed had dire consequences. She easily could have been more aggressive in opening instead of playing the way she did. I think she wanted to make things worse or didn't care if she did. Her actions helped create this huge school funding problem. She is not good for the people of Michigan; and I'm being kind.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 7:31pm

Our disaster of a governor and her worthless administration can be thanked for the school and state budget concerns. Recall her and get rid of the poor leadership ASAP. She couldn’t as they say manage her way out of a paper bag. She is hateful, deceitful and devicive. Morally and ethically corrupt. This is our governor so very sad. She is asking for federal bailouts because she has failed Michigan and those she is supposed to support. Figure it out governor you have all the answers. Quit blaming others for YOUR failures!

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 8:13pm

Thank the governor and her administration for these budget concerns. She needs to admit her accountability and take responsibility. The federal government isn’t her piggy bank. Stop blaming others for what you did and figure it out.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 10:50pm

A federal bailout would be nice but should not be expected. 1.) Where do you propose the federal government take the $ from? 2.) Our state would've had more revenue if it didn't completely shut down. Our state was warned this would happen but shut down anyway. :(

Sat, 06/06/2020 - 11:11am

Does anyone check your article for spelling/grammar mistakes?

Sun, 06/07/2020 - 9:07am

Who cares about spelling and grammar mistakes. People are just expressing their feelings, not writing a school essay. Geez, get something more important to complain about.

Marlene Augst
Sat, 06/06/2020 - 11:52am

Federal taxpayers owe Michigan nothing, this economic crises was caused by Whitmer's decisions. The people of Michigan should take fiscal responsibility for WHO THEY ELECTED.

Sun, 06/07/2020 - 8:04pm

Sad. but our voting system is largely influenced by people who don't pay taxes. That is why we get who we get; those who promise free stuff.

Michelle Funk
Sat, 06/06/2020 - 2:33pm

BETSY DEVOSS where are you? You help your local charter school named after you with millions. Being a charter school funding is hard enough and now cut back? Send all of us your millions or vote to help education. We know you have no experience in education but you got a great seat to sit in.

Grand Plan
Sat, 06/06/2020 - 7:39pm

I hope most of Michigan’s citizens are wise to the Governor’s “Grand Plan” . She kept Michigan closed down to further her political agenda NOT because she had the citizen’s best interests at heart. She wanted to go after federal funding and play poor me. She wanted to continue her power trips. She wanted to continue with her shut down until she realized she pushed the envelope as far as she could as the Michigan Supreme Court and DOJ federal support against her were coming soon. She is opening up so she can save face and not have everyone see her over ruled. Michigan’s governor and her administration are a disgrace to us and the USA. So don’t buy into more of her games and see her for who she is and what she did to Michigan. Let’s take Michigan back and prosper it again with all the honest hard working people who believe in right. Wise up against her political agenda. She doesn’t reallly have our best interests at heart. It is all about her and her plans. I believe most in Michigan want a governor and admistration we can respect and that supports our; laws, constitution, businesses, our wonderful president and his administration, our military, jobs, and similar. So all these budget woes are on her. It was part of her “Grand Plan”. Remember this and don’t fall for more of her schemes. God Bless Michigan and the USA!! Pray for her and our leaders. Don’t support her behavior or reward it. She needs to wake up to the people who really love our state and country. We tried to be open minded with her, but she has failed not only us, but herself. Also look what she put the poor barber through. The pettiness of suspending his licenses is beyond the pale. Do as I say or else even if I am not following the law. Not working with our legislatures pure disgusting. So do not believe for one minute she did not know what she was doing to our state, our schools, our country. Her agenda is corrupt period!!

Jill Peters
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 1:21am

The money is right here in Michigan. Property taxes are the major revenue stream for schools. The State offers many exemptions of the 18 mill local school tax, the 18 mill is retained by the local schools. Here are some of the types of properties exempted from paying the 18 mill school mileage: industrial personal property, Qualified Forest, non profit housing projects, Qualified Agricultural properties. Industrial personal property is not only exempt from 18 mills but also the 6 mill State Education Tax. Tax abatements for industrial properties cut their tax obligations by half . If the State Legislators temporarily eliminate the Tax exemptions and let the local Schools retain the 18 mill school operating mileage it would most likely balance the budget.

Debbie Debbie
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 5:49am

It's time to start Home Schooling your children! The Teachers Union gives Millions of dollars to the Democratic Presidential Campaign. It's time to breakup the Teachers Union!

Daniel Vandenberg
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 7:38am

How about we get all these young healthy males that could be working off of their food stamps add free Medicaid. That would buy a lot of clarinets and trombones.

Get rid of scho...
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 10:05pm

The school bus is obsolete and should be eliminated. It was implemented in this country during a time when the average American family had no cars at all. Most kids walked or rode a bike to school, but those who lived too far were picked up. Now, most American families have at least two cars. There is no requirement for who can ride the bus. Kids rarely walk, and in the school where I work, no kids ride a bike to school. Bike racks are empty every day. On my drive to work, I often get stuck behind a school bus. Parents sit in their cars (with it running) with their kids until the bus comes. The kid gets out of the car and on to the bus. This even happens less than 1 mile from the school. These families should be driving their kids to school. It costs schools $692 per bus riding student per year. And although only half of all students use the school bus, that's quite a bit of savings. If a family can prove need, then the school should make arrangements for the kid to get to school. Not to mention all the nonsense (fights, bullying) that happens on the bus that would be eliminated.

RJ Webber
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 9:59am

Reading many of these comments helps me to better understand how some feel about public education. I am curious if any of the people critical of supporting my students have recieved any level of financial assistance in their lives....from family, professional associates, or the government? Curious as to why sarcasm and negativity flow so easily from them around public education. Curious as to their own experiences with public education. I will always advocate for the needs of the students I serve.

Tom Paine
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 9:01pm

In this day and age, where everyone thinks they are a virologist, epidemiologist and expert at projecting transmission trends in diverse populations which multiple variables, it is not surprising that they have even greater expertise in education. After all, we all went to school right? So for the sake of accurate information a couple points to ponder:

Most of school budget money comes directly from the state as a result of Proposal A which reduced property taxes and raised the sales tax from 4 cents to 6 cents. The 6 mills you still pay goes to a state fund, not directly to your local district. If you take time to actually read the article, you can see the actual dollar impact and it will be significant.

School funding in Michigan is about 15% less adjusted for inflation than it was in 1995. At the same time schools are expected to everything they've done in the past plus spend more on security, technology and data privacy as well as address social needs of their students. Anyone who has followed education or worked in it during this time can tell you about how programs have been cut, class sizes have increased, and teaching as a profession has gone from a job with okay pay but really good benefits, to a job that is okay as long as your spouse has a good job, like assistant manager at a restaurant, or dental hygienist. Good story here:

Suggestions about two cars and driving may work if you live in the suburbs, but for the hundreds of rural districts that can cover several hundred square miles it is neither practical nor possible for many families. Think about it. What should be done with parents who don't have the ability to get their kids to school? Lock them up for truancy? Have their 5 year-old walk ten miles?

Suggestions about cutting to the basics raise the question, how much should the richest nation in the world spend on educating its children? How much of your state tax dollars should go to education? If you look at you state income tax bill, add what you pay in sales tax and then look at what % of the budget goes to the school aid fund, you might be surprised. I also suggest you consider that the cost of educational failure, which is a lifetime of poverty, crime, incarceration and social dysfunction. For comparison, the United States spends about $2300 per person annually on national defense, so your family of four's share this year is $9200.

Many of you are opposed to a federal "bailout" for various reasons including "it is the governor's fault". Fair enough. I'm assuming you returned your stimulus money and did not take PPP or told your employer who did, that you would not accept any pay for the two months PPP is paying your wages because you are opposed to federal bailouts. Otherwise you'd be such a hypocrite you should be ashamed to post (even anonymously), but I'm sure you took those principled stands when you had the chance. Right?

Finally, all readers should understand that from a macroeconomic standpoint, there is no difference between the benefits of keeping people working in the private sector versus the public sector. A major reason for the slow recovery from the Great Recession was job losses and the subsequent economic impact from public sector job cuts. With the exception of teacher unions, national school advocacy organizations (Superintendents, School Board, Principal Associations), like local government organizations (NML, NTA, NACA) do not endorse candidates or give political contributions. When the CARES Act was being negotiated, every major private sector group was calling in favors and endorsements to get their share of the $2.1 trillion pie. Schools got pennies because there were no favors and endorsements to call in. That is why school leaders, along with municipal leaders are asking for help.