Archived Story

‘Race’ full of unfunded mandates

Published 11:00pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac Union Schools and Lewis Cass Intermediate School District view the upcoming second round of Race to the Top as too much of an unfunded mandate for it to be worth their while.

At the school board meeting Monday night in the middle school Performing Arts Center, board members heard from both Dowagiac Superintendent Peg Stowers and LCISD Superintendent Robert Colby, who attended to review his general fund budget with the local district.

“The several-hundred-page Race to the Top round two federal grant the State of Michigan is prepared to submit next week,” Stowers advised, “at this point the board needs to decide whether it wants to endorse that grant or not.”

The board voted 6-0 against backing it.

“As an independent school district,” Stowers said, “we will be required then to report to the Lewis Cass ISD, which is responsible for representing school districts to the state.

“Only two states were awarded money in the first round of Race to the Top. If you read through this, it contains many unfunded mandates and very few dollars in terms of this grant if Michigan is awarded. It is very solid with unfunded mandates. In our existing budget, there is virtually no way we could be successful in accomplishing all the grant says we will do.”

Colby said “the lion’s share” of the federal initiative targets underperforming school districts “and we’re very fortunate not to have failing schools here in the county. The problem I have with it is there is no opt out. It’s left to the Department of Education to determine if we’re making adequate progress.”

The LCISD has been required by law for the past four years to review its general fund budget, but Colby noted it “reflects the smallest part of what we do.”

Colby promised next year to include special education spending for “the whole picture.”
“The bad news is this is a deficit budget,” Colby said.

“We’re not going to try to bring our revenues and expenditures into line for a couple of reasons, primarily to spend the fund balance down to be able to maintain a level of service. The other part of it is politically motivated. We know our state is looking for ways to balance its own budget. One of the pieces it’s looking at is fund balances in districts around the state and targeting those.”

The audited LCISD general fund budget for 2008-2009 showed $2,256,499 revenue, $2,512,667 expenditures and a $256,168 deficit which reduced fund equity from $2,067,139 to $1,810,971.

The current budget adopted for 2009-2010 shows revenue of $2,571,712, expenditures of $3,008,430 and a $436,718 deficit which lowers fund equity from $1,810,971 to $1,374,253.

The preliminary 2010-2011 spending plan calls for $2,547,800 in revenue, $2,815,209 in expenditures and a $267,409 deficit which will further reduce the cushion from $1,374,253 to $1,106,844.

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