State running out of timePublished 9:32am Wednesday, September 30, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Michigan legislators are working up until the final hours of their allotted time to determine a budget for the rest of this fiscal year.
There was hope by some that a final budget would be announced Tuesday night after some rumor had circulated that lawmakers expected to be finished with what has been a long, frustrating process before a day ahead of their Oct. 1 deadline.
A chance remains for the passage of an interim budget, giving legislators more time to finalize a budget for the remaining of the fiscal year.
But even if a budget is agreed upon before the end of the day today, many in the world of education and local government are facing significant cuts in state funding well into their fiscal year.
“It’s very disappointing for us that the legislature can’t come to some kind of agreement much earlier in the year,” said Niles Community Schools Superintendent Doug Law on Tuesday.
A quarter of the fiscal year is already over. “Once you start school it’s very difficult to change the program,” Law said. “This should have been something that they were working on last May when we were working on ours.”
When it comes to dollars in cuts for schools – numbers have been speculative.
But one thing that has been made clear – there will be cuts to schools and they will be significant.
And, Law said, they will change the face of education.
“Dramatic changes,” can be expected in the coming year and officials have been told to expect similar cuts for the fiscal year of 2010.
Though Law said the Niles Community Schools District “has some reserves that we’re obviously going to have to use to soften the blow,” he said the school board would have to take part in some tough discussions regarding what kinds of changes will have to be made to adjust to the decrease in state aid. “Basically changing our entire education program,” he said. “It’s not going to be education as we know it.”
As districts lose funding, schools could lose staff, clubs and programs they may no longer be able to afford.
“It’s going to come down to people,” Law said. “And people equate to programs and services for kids.”
Working up until the final hours of their deadline – or even beyond – means that those affected by the cuts have no time to plan for their year and little time to adjust once their fiscal year has started.
Brandywine Superintendent, John Jarpe said he wished that state lawmakers would use funds already set aside for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year to “shore up” the lack in funding for this year – allowing more time to plan for what promises to be tight financial years ahead.
Educators will have to look at “what do you need that’s going to help the kids the most?” Jarpe said.
“We’ve lived through tough times before,” he added. “We’d prefer not to face it again.”
As the state continues to suffer through its economic woes, Jarpe said education is vital – as businesses are drawn to an educated workforce and that starts at the school level.
“We need to keep educating these students,” he said.
According to Law, during the superintendents’ fall conference he learned that 30 districts in the state are already bankrupt – and expects that number to increase as the number of dollars per student sent down to schools from Lansing decrease.
Schools aren’t alone in their worries over the state’s budget. Local governments are also facing a threat of decreases to their revenue sharing, which could affect police and fire department budgets.
“If we lose $150,000, that’s a minimum of two or three people,” said city administrator Terry Eull.
He added that the city has already been working with limited staff, refusing to fill in retired positions and cutting dollars wherever they can.
More cuts just mean more challenges.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Eull said. “It’s not going to be fun.”