Tiny school districts to Lansing: Stop acting like ‘middle-schoolers’

Whitefish Township school

Whitefish Township Community School faces an uncertain future after Gov. Whitmer vetoed isolated school funding as leverage in a fight with the GOP. (Courtesy photo)

Do you have a question about the Michigan budget?

Email Capitol reporters Riley Beggin at rbeggin@bridgemi.com or Jonathan Oosting at joosting@bridgemi.com 
and it could be the basis of a future story.

As principal and superintendent of the one-building Whitefish Township Community School in the Upper Peninsula community of Paradise, Tom McKee recognizes middle-school behavior when he sees it.

His school district is set to lose 16 percent of its funding because of vetoes by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the failure of the Democratic governor and GOP leaders in the Legislature to come to a compromise in their budget fight.

The 47-student Whitefish Township school system is one of five tiny, rural Michigan school districts on islands or in the U.P. that receive a sizable portion of their budgets from an “isolated district” school fund. That money helps keep the doors open in those districts, and keeps students from having to ride on buses as much as four hours a day to get to the closest adjoining schools.

That funding was vetoed by Whitmer Sept. 30 as part of a negotiating ploy to force Republicans to compromise on the 2019-20 budget.

So far, neither side has budged.

“I call the governor’s office every day,” McKee said. “They tell me ‘We want to fix it but they (the Legislature) won’t negotiate.’ Lee Chatfield (the Republican Speaker of the House) says the same thing about the governor.

“Being in education, it’s like walking into a room of middle-schoolers and they’re all messing around,” McKee said.

Except McKee can’t put the Lansing middle-schoolers in detention.

“I’m disappointed that the 319 kids (the total enrollment in those districts) in the most isolated districts in the state are being used as a political football,” McKee said. “They’re caught up in political games of finger-pointing.”

Whitmer made 147 line-item vetoes in the state budget, cutting almost $1 billion from a budget that was passed by the GOP-controlled House and Senate with no input from the governor. About $128 million of those cuts came in the School Aid budget which funds the state’s public K-12 schools.

Many of those cuts are controversial – $35 million in per-student funding for charter schools, for example – or would seem to fly in the face of priorities Whitmer outlined in her campaign, such as a $16 million cut to career and technical education and $15 million for a summer reading program for third-graders in danger of being held back because of poor reading scores.

The line-item veto of the $7 million isolated school fund is “devastating” to the five districts that rely on the funding to keep their doors open.

Those districts – Whitefish Township in Paradise, Burt Township in Grand Marais, Mackinac Island, Beaver Island and DeTour Area Schools on Drummond Island – all enroll under 100 students. Consolidation with neighboring school districts is problematic because of distance.

Because of low enrollment and low tax bases, the five districts have been the primary recipients of the state’s isolated school funding formula since it was created in 2004. The program has continued through Democratic and Republican governors.

In recent years, the program has been expanded to include funding for about 100 rural districts to help pay for gas to transport children, but other districts rely on the funding for a much smaller portion of their budgets.

If the five original districts don’t receive isolated school funding this year, “it’s going to be catastrophic for all the reasons this was put into place in the first place,” said Daniel Reattoir, superintendent of Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District, the home of three of the isolated districts.

“Those districts are going to have a hard time fulfilling the Michigan Merit Curriculum” because they will have to shrink their teaching staffs, Reattoir said, referring to a set of state standards and classes that students must meet to graduate. “I know this is political gamesmanship. (But) when it impacts students and the opportunities available to them, it becomes no longer a game.”

About 80 miles west of Paradise, Burt Township School in Grand Marais would lose $221,674 – 23 percent of its annual budget – if the vetoed funds are not restored.

“With that much of a shortfall, we’d need to reconfigure to a K-6 (district) or close our doors,” Burt Township Superintendent Greg Nyen said of the 26- student K-12 district on Lake Superior. “We have enough in our fund balance to continue status quo for the school year. But if this drags out into the new calendar year, then the board is going to be forced to make some difficult choices” about next school year.

The nearest neighboring school district is more than 50 miles away, Nyen said. With winter weather, “our kids would be on the school bus four or more hours a day.”

Young families in Grand Marais are already talking about moving to avoid putting their kids on long bus rides to school, Nyen said.

 “That’s going to hamstring our community, because it’s the young people with children in school who do the snow plowing and run our stores,” Nyen said. “If this does turn into a mass exodus, it’s going to have a compounding effect on the community itself.”

Whitefish Township schools would need to eliminate either its elementary or high school grades next year, or close the entire district in June 2021, said superintendent Mckee.

The closest neighboring district is 90 minutes away on a good day. “And on the shore of Lake Superior, we don’t get many good days between November and May.”

Tiffany Brown, spokeswoman for Whitmer said the budget the Republican-led Legislature passed was “fataly flawed,” and the governor wants to negotiate a supplemental budget “to achieve meaningful, long-term funding that will actually support our children and their schools.”

Three of the five school districts suffering major funding cuts are in the 107th House district, represented by Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield, one of the key people with whom Whitmer hopes to continue budget negotiations.

Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Chatfield, R-Levering, told Bridge in an email “these schools should not be targets; they should be priorities. That’s why the Legislature funded these districts.”

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told Bridge in an email this wouldn’t be happening if the governor hadn’t vetoed the funding.

“The Senate Majority Leader plans to meet with the governor this week regarding her actions,” McCann said.

Burt Township Superintendent Nyen isn’t holding his breath. 

“Both sides are using students as pawns,” he said. “It’s not a good situation any way you look at it.”

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Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 10/08/2019 - 8:05am

I wonder if living on the dole is what these people were planning when they chose to throw in to the pull yourself up by your bootstraps self sufficient lifestyle in the upper peninsula?
Conservatives are a wonder to me as they rush to game the system and gather money made possible by a government they distrust and seek to drown in the bathtub!
Our governor didn’t do this to them. It was the “I hate government” politician they elected that sold the bill of goods that we can afford things without having to pay for them.

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:52am

Absolutely. Another term for such "subsidies" is socialism. Gee, I thought socialism was a crime in Republican eyes.

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 8:06am

I'm confused the ending Democrat's accusation, how again are the Republicans using these kids as pawns? The Governor specifically vetoed the money at issue, this wasn't part of some omnibus everything or nothing bill the US congress sees, it was pointed. Instead of mean spirited maneuvers to target speaker Chatfield, the Gov should resubmit bills so everyone knows what she will accept.

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:54am

This governor was hamstrung during lame duck before coming into office. Republican ‘s have had a history of not funding schools so this is the only recourse for balancing a budget. Where were the voices of outrage when Gov Snyder and 40 years of Republican control (gerrymandering) brought us to their own study showing at minimum our kids were shorted on average 2k per student? This cheating of public schools is far more sinister than one might imagine. Think Betsy DeVos and privatization of public schools (charters) as well as secondary student grants which turn out to be loans instead. More people should have been pushing back before this. Our students and children have suffered for four decades. The result? Our children are leaving the state!

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 5:38pm

Leaving aside your other nonsense. The Governor specifically choose this item along with the autistic kids and others as targets for her to vent her anger on. Don't blame the Republicans here, it was all her. Seems like maybe she found a way to punish parents who don't choose unionized schools or to abort handicapped kids?

middle of the mit
Tue, 10/08/2019 - 9:05pm

Did you have such concerns when the Republicans over the last 28 years have been decimating the public school funds?

And could you provide proof that what she says is nonsense.

I need links.

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 8:43am

Proof that the Gov deliberately selected these particular items for her vetoes regardless of what it does to the children? You mean evidence that there is little correlation between educational outcomes and school funding, making the entire premise of her,(your?) statement nonsense? ( Rather than other societal factors impacting Michigan schools ?) That kids are leaving the state because we didn't fund colleges to her standard? That allowing parents to choose the school they believe suits best their kid somehow is a terrible wrong and is wrecking our schools. Narrow it down for me.

middle of the mit
Thu, 10/10/2019 - 5:31pm

Matt, you said Cindy was espousing nonsense. Keep up or stop obfuscating. None of you were complaining when Republicans and Snyder were gutting education funding. As a matter of fact you want to take the sales tax on a gallon of gas away from schools and local governments. More proof of what Cindy said, conservatives gut school funding. And now you Governor Whitmer for standing her ground against a bunch of fair weathered friends.

And you admit this in the very comment I am replying to right now. How, where?

[[You mean evidence that there is little correlation between educational outcomes and school funding, making the entire premise of her,(your?) statement nonsense? ]]

If that is fact, then this loss of money is a moot point. In YOUR opinion it means nothing.

Tell that to the kids.

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 8:22am

The fact that more money is spent per kid at the end of Snyder's term than was spent at the beginning or even during Granholm's admin, isn't even an arguable fact? Is that seriously your contention?

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 11:09am

This is politics and to ask for 'proof' verifies it is politics. We watched for the last couple of years about 'collusion' and there was no proof only a concocted 'dossier' being claimed as 'proof.'
If you truly wanted to address the problem, you would be offering ideas and not asking for 'proof' on a non-essential distraction.
Why are we talking about alternative means/methods to address learning and how to use this situation as a place to test such approaches.
We have heard about how a northern Michigan district has installed WiFi on their school buses where kids can read and study, it would be interesting to see how effective that has been and see if that is a tool to use in other districts.
If we were talking about the learning process we could be sharing different perspectives on ways to enhance or modify the student learning process for the students in the small remote schools, but instead you want 'proof' of that there is politics in Lansing.

middle of the mit
Thu, 10/10/2019 - 6:31pm

No duane, I asked for proof from Matt because Matt has been telling me that I NEED PROOF to back up my statements. So if I need proof, shouldn't you too? And all I was asking for proof from Matt on this particular subject was that he said Cindy's comment was nonsense. I wanted proof of why. She stated that Republicans have been hammering and cutting school budgets for a long time. What's wrong? Is that something that is not quantifiable and there are no hard proven facts like legislation or TV or radio interviews that we can prove that with? Or is it just that the facts would back up Cindy's statement?

Duane, I would love to have a rational conversation or banter back and forth ideas, but that's not what Republicans do. They know what they want then they obfuscate, twist and distort and then flood their ideas no matter how bad they are.

They complain about how schools don't need more money. Nothing but the economy and the wealthy can be fixed by throwing money at it. Did you see any conservative comments on the piece about Sheriffs depts complaining about loss of money? Were they saying that the cops should just cut costs? No.

I am not looking for proof of politics in Lansing. I want proof your ideas work.

Why hasn't FOX News left the liberal taxhole of Manhattan for the greener more tax friendly pastures of rural Kansas? And why are they based in the biggest taxhole their is?

If what you conservatives say about cities and taxes is true, that should've happened 9 years ago or within those 9 years. And you Matt and the rest of the conservatives should move up here, right now. Live the same lifestyle you live down there up here amongst your Republican base.

And as for the dossier? I suppose you think that started with Carter Page too. What about Papadopolous? Ohh he got conned by an exotic professor? And that professor set him up? Even if the professor did set up George, George took the bait and ran with it. If it was you or me? We'd be in jail still. Especially if was a lessor crime.

But "Russia if you can here me, if you could find Hillary's e-mails". Sounds kind of like " Ukraine, if you could find bad things about Biden", or " China might want to look into this too" doesn't bother you in the least bit does it?

Manafort is still sitting in jail on one count of passing off RNC polling data to a pro-Russian oligarch.

And Cohen is sitting in jail for passing some checks from the President (individual 1 in the case) to a porn star and a playboy bunny.

They are the only ones that did anything wrong in your eyes, Aren't they? Or do even believe they did anything wrong?

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 6:19pm

Point well taken, whomever raises the point of proof opens themselves up to the same expectations.
As for how the Republicans act sounds much like Democrats are acting. What about those of us not affiliate with either Party [I was raised a ‘yellow dog’ Democrat but saw the flaws], are you open to a conversation and what would be the guides to be followed?
I my resistance to all issues/programs/agencies requesting money is not mentioning what that money will provide in improve results, whether education, law enforcement, regulations. I spent a career with a manufacturing company, I quickly learned which was reinforced every year, there will be less money available and the results will be better. What facilitated our success was a culture of change and performance expectations. We were always trying to find better ways to deliver improved results, we included as broad based involvement as appropriate [we learned to include local neighbors, customer, other departments, government agencies, etc. I know that back in the 80s there was even multiple offers to include ‘Green Peace’ on activities that may impact the environment [they refused but local advocates did participate]. The point is that what we did was start with desired results, then had conversations about how to achieve those results, cost/money only entered the conversation when the desire methods were identified and we began looking to implement the ideas. For my whole career I was always asking to spend other people’s, and those people expected results for the money.
In the case of the smalls calling for more money are they describing how the student experience will be changed, their learning process will be change to improve their learning results? If not, then it seems they simply want more to do what they are doing and we will still be getting the results we are currently disappointed by.
I don’t know if the schools or police need more money because I don’t know what they are going to differently with that money and whether they will even assess performance to see if they are spending effectively. DO you think a person should be paid more if they don’t improve their performance, productivity, or in some other way increase their measurable value?
My income and spending was always tied to improving results, why should I or anyone simply open their wallet every time we hear a cry for more money with nothing about improved results? Why don’t we hear accompanying ideas of how the spender will be drastically changing their methods to improve results, why and include performance metrics with their money requests?
As for FOX’s decisions, I don’t know the culture, the need for proximity, and personnel [how many staffers like the area]. As for trying to justify the failure of politics by only talking about one Party undermines any proof you may feel you have. I watch the verbal abuse of woman victims during the 90s, so your holier than thou cries fall on deft ears. I like I say my Democrat education started at about ten in western Wayne County so I got over believing Dems are pure and only the Republicans are flaweds. As for where I live, there is seldom a Republican candidate for any office at or below State Representative and they never win, so your assumptions are weak.
My voting is usually picking the lesser of two flawed candidates.
If you still want a conversation, pick a topic and let’s explore it. I will commit to describing why and what experience feeds the view.

middle of the mit
Sat, 10/12/2019 - 7:23pm

Duane, here is my problem with your standard of proof theory. You act like asking for proof of what someone says is true, is politics. That's not what politics is though. Politics is the art of persuading people to your way of thinking.

When you take proof and act like it is propaganda, where does truth come from? What are facts? Then everyone is able to play politics by just simply stating that someone else they don't agree with is an idiot. Even if they can't prove it. How would that work in a professional environment? Currently the police think that cannabis is more dangerous than alcohol or texting while driving, even though they are putting more ads for people not to do those things because that is what is causing all the accidents. But they demonize cannabis for things that they predicted but have never come to fruition.

As for dems sounding like what I described republicans as? I grew up a hard core republican. No yellow, hard core. Then I started looking at what they were doing as opposed to what they said. Are dems the upright moral law abiding party? They are not the party that claims that.
But when republicans have law breathing down their white collars, all of a sudden, the law enforcement agency they helped create to take down booze runners and then cannabis is all of a sudden DEEP STATE. They had no problems with these agencies when they used them to go against dems.

Now I understand your reluctance to just shove money at any cause that asks for it. But you don't mind giving tax breaks to the wealthy that literally defunds the programs that our State provides. Even when those wealthy are the ones that gain the most from most of the States services. Roads? Yep the poor and the rest of us benefit, but how would businesses and the wealthy conduct business without them? How about the courts? Except for criminal and domestic squabbles the big courts are for business and they rule like it. And when it comes to you and me dealing with a disagreement with a business? Arbitration.

Yes there are ways to cut costs. And they should be looked at. But at some point in time you are going to have to realize that the more business makes the more they charge. Even after they cut wages, move plants and jobs to third world hell holes and they do that to hurt workers and pad their bottom line. Arjays comment here, https://www.bridgemi.com/guest-commentary/opinion-why-michigans-complex-... , which I never thought I would say, shows you what society is moving towards. As have many Bridge articles. No one wants poors near them. But they all need them to do the work the wealthy won't or don't want to do. Yet they don't want to pay them enough to live in the areas that they are needed in.

You and every conservative KNOWS why FOX News doesn't leave the liberal taxhole of Manhattan. Same reason that rural is contracting. The same reason that you and others literally can not come up here and live your same lifestyle. It doesn't exist up here or in rural Kansas or Mississippi or Arkansas. The sad fact of that matter is this, to keep those things you have to pay for them.

[[As for trying to justify the failure of politics by only talking about one Party undermines any proof you may feel you have. I watch the verbal abuse of woman victims during the 90s, so your holier than thou cries fall on deft ears]]

Are you referring to Bill Clintons accusers? Do you feel that Individual 1's accusers are telling the truth too? Or have you not been listening to what the religious party is saying about women today?

I don't believe the dem party is pure. But when one party says they ARE THE PARTY OF GOD and then blame dems , the party EVIL AND DEBAUCHERY, for doing the same things and less than the party that "says they are moral"? That is politics.

Where I live a dem rarely if ever gets elected. And if they do, it is only because another republican or independent is running as a dem. Does that make your assumptions weak?

I comment on stories because I got sick of seeing a bunch of republicans and libertarians pushing their view with no pushback. I just don't like long platitudes about how tax cuts are the only way to stimulate business while Kansas went bust. Business needs consumers first and foremost. Competition second. That is what keeps them on the ball, isn't it? Taxes are a function of the society you want to live in. Cut taxes the way you want and you are going to start complaining less about how Silicone Valley treats it's impoverished and you are going to start seeing it in your community.

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 12:27am

More topics, I had hoped for fewer so we could go in more detail and tried to develop different approaches to them. Your choice, I will try to be brief.
‘Truth’ is much like what one wants to hear, it isn’t what is said but what is heard. I have been involved with data [temperatures, pressures, chemical analysis] that all present agreed were facts and yet the interpretation of the data was different [what the people believed was creating those conditions]. ‘Truths’ reflective how data is presented, ‘spin.’ Personal perspective determined what the ‘truth’ was and how to apply it in deciding changes to the process generating the data. I hope you don’t believe ‘politics’ isn’t practiced in academia.
Politics [Party, workplace, neighborhood, not for profit organizations, science] is spin, sometimes it involves factual data, but in all cases it is trying to get others to lean to the view of another. The best way to view politics is as a competition of ideas and not natural laws, so it isn’t about proof but about rationale. The effectiveness of politics is driven by what people hear not what is said.
Your example of cannabis, using the word ‘demonize’ is putting your spin on the issue. I believe that cannabis can impair a person’s reactions, I feel people shouldn’t be operating ‘heavy equipment’ while so impaired [private use isn’t of concern]. Your ‘spin’ [demonizing police] isn’t a ‘lie’ nor is it proof that my view is not true, simply your politicking fails.
Another example of the difference in what is said and heard was my use of ‘yellow dog Democrat.’ ‘Yellow dog Democrat’ is a phrased used for nearly a century d by Democrats to describe the Party loyalty. It infers if the Democrats ran a ‘yellow dog’ the loyal Democrats would vote for it. My brother is an admitted ‘yellow dog Democrat’. Another point is there are dogs with yellow coats, there is even a movie about a dog the is titled “Old Yeller.” My best guess is that you had a different thought reading ‘yellow dog Democrats’, which affected what you heard.
“They are not the party that claims that.” I grew up and still hear the Democrats touting their being the Party of the ‘working man.’ That seems to me to be a ‘claim.’ When my mother was in Lansing she would talk about the political coos the Democrats made on the Republicans rather than talking about the issues of concern to the Michigan politics, sounds a lot like Washington today. You may want to believe in the purity of one Party, I don’t.
My view of taxes is predicated on the spending. Since I lack confident in the agencies/politicians responsible spending or even in regulating Michigan, I am not so sensitive to reduced taxes. I have more confidence in those paying the taxes [individuals and businesses] to get value for the money and benefiting Michigan then the State.
I am not sure how you determined how the ‘wealthy’ gain more benefit from the roads. It seems to me that there are a lot of trucks on the roads and I wonder how many of those drivers are your ‘wealthy.’ I can see how the ‘wealthy’ get more from education. You seem resistant to the ‘wealthy’ gaining more from a government service that the ‘poor,’ are you suggesting a need to deprive the ‘wealthy’ having access to such service? Are the added educational benefits for the ‘wealthy’ because of their wealth or is the added benefit earned by their kids/ students staying in school and doing the necessary studying to earn a degree which helps them earn their wealth?
Do you want to talk about why large and smaller companies want to grow and need to expand their markets globally?
You are again hearing what you want to hear and not what is being said, I don’t say ‘cut costs,’ I talk about results, performance, creativity, and effectiveness. When all you can hear is that resistance to taxes is about cutting cost you fail to understand the concept of value and budgeting that businesses and individuals use and why they are used in judging government spending. Value is what people want from government; cell phones are a good example of how people will pay more for greater value.
A business needs a measurable purpose more than a competitor, a business that is committed to such a purpose will excel more to achieve that purpose then it would in response to a competitor. A measurable purpose will create a culture of change/improvement, while a competitor will instigate reaction not necessarily improvement. A government organization has no competition so its focus becomes manipulation of the system, while an agency that has a measurable purpose will be driven to change to achieve the purpose [what we measure we strive to improve].
Why would a Republican ever run as a Democrat in an area where a dem is rarely elected? In my town Republicans rarely run because they are never elected, I mention this because you seem to feel I should be living with Republican as if politics and Party should be the controlling factor in life. In my life, politics is very low on the topics of conversation in social settings. I learned early on that Party politics are a ‘contact sport’ and should view it as entertainment.

J Kat.
Tue, 10/08/2019 - 8:30am

This Governor will never let this happen, it is difficult to negotiate with this GOP who have basically run this State for 10 or more years. They just say no. What did they do in those years, poison Flint, underfund schools as usual and not do a damned things for our roads. Please add others I have missed. Thanks.

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:55am

And like Trump, the Republicans who let our schools, roads, hospitals (mental), environment (water, etc) completely collapse by not funding them adequately for 10 years are blaming the current Governor for the mess they created!

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 11:48am

It's Rural Red v. Urban Blue. Starting in 2022 there will be more players on the Blue team and less on the Red team. Strikes me that the Red guys should be thinking ahead and maybe just maybe consider the word, "compromise."

Larry Murton
Tue, 10/08/2019 - 6:27pm

Only BULLIES put little kids in the middle of an argument they have no part in or a way to resolve. Fight your own battles and solve problems!

susan worley
Wed, 10/09/2019 - 8:58am

How about we call it like it is. The governor's spokesman says the republicans wouldn't negotiate. But it's the governor herself who walked out 3 weeks before the end of the fiscal year because she wasn't getting what she wanted, a 45 cent increase in the gas tax. She vetoed $1 billion in funds to go to roads because she wanted $2 billion. The legislature worked together, democrat and republican, to put a budget on her desk. They did their part the governor did not and has not done hers. If anyone is using students as political pawns, it is the governor.

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 4:15pm

Funny how she's in no hurry to put a ballot question for this .45 /gal together for the next election? Why is that?

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 12:45am

Students are political pawns to the left. All of the student protests are for left views.