By Ian Perrotta
Last Wednesday (Oct. 14), Hamtramck’s School Board discussed the sobering news concerning recent budget cuts made by the State of Michigan. Two weeks ago, state legislators passed a K-12 budget that cut per-pupil-spending by $165.
While the figure may seem insignificant, when each of Hamtramck’s 3,078 students is factored in, it totals to a loss of over $500,000. But the 2.9 percent cut in overall K-12 spending could have been worse — originally the cuts were going to be $218 per student, which would have cost the district over $670,000 in lost aid. Even so, the reduction in funding is so drastic and disturbing that it brought 2nd District Sen. Martha G. Scott to the meeting to alleviate the concerns of others, and to voice her own.
“If I don’t sound happy, it’s because I’m not,” said Scott. “We can’t balance a budget by putting our children’s future at risk. These cuts are unconscionable at any time, particularly now when we are trying to create a new economy and prepare our young students for the future.”
The cuts will not come out of the foundation allowance, meaning schools will be allowed to decide on their own how to make these cuts. But that is only if they come up with a service consolidation plan to reduce operating costs. The idea is similar to the consolidation of city services to reduce overall operating expenses. The Department of Education will be developing guidelines for the consolidation plans.
The news wasn’t all bad at the meeting, however. Glenn Pasternak, Director of Finance for Hamtramck Public Schools, discussed the Budget Deficit Reduction Program and announced the district will likely come out of its estimated $1 million deficit on June 30, 2011.
“It won’t be easy to rebound,” he said, “but I feel positive that if we work together and increase student enrollment next fall, it looks like we can deal with it.”
The district already caught a break this year. Originally, a decline in student enrollment was expected, but a surprising increase of 200 students helped boost the district’s financial standing. However, most of that additional revenue will be offset by $5.5 million in health insurance and retirement costs coupled with the $165 reduction in per-pupil aid. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that health insurance expense reduction is the number one goal for next year’s budget.
Another reassuring point is that despite the current economic climate, things could be much worse in Hamtramck. The district lost 985 kids in a seven-year period, and another 130 pupils were expected to leave this year. Moreover, without the prudent budget cuts made over the last four-to-five years, the district would be $2-3 million in debt.
With all the numbers and figures being tossed around, it seemed more like a gathering of corporate number-crunchers than a school board meeting. Senator Scott said that no matter how bad the economic picture is, the state must keep investing in education.
“The most important thing the State of Michigan does is educate our young people,” she said.