Governor’s address draws mixed reaction from local officials

Published 11:27 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – News Tuesday that the governor would not cut public school funding in the middle of this year was a sigh of relief for local educators.
But, that means revenue would have to come from cuts in other areas, and the burden could fall in the laps of local governments.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, in her State of the State Address, said an educated workforce – and not only tax cuts for businesses – was the key to repairing Michigan's economy and attracting new business. Her proposals for improving education came without ways to pay for them and mixed messages of providing more funding for schools who meet proposed requirements, but less money for those districts that fail to comply.
"These 21st century CEOs will tell you, no business wants to come to a state that is making deep cuts in schools when their future business success depends on having access to skilled workers," Granholm said to a joint session of Congress.
"If cutting business taxes was all it took to get jobs, we'd have all the jobs we need in Michigan," she said, adding heavy proponents of additional tax cuts for businesses, or "naysayers," are ignoring the changing nature of the economy.
Granholm said school districts that offer a full day of kindergarten will be given new funding to provide full day pre-school. She also called for laws to require all students to attend kindergarten and stay in school until they are 18 years old.
To cut costs of education, Granholm requested school districts to consolidate services at the county and regional level, and added her new budget proposal will give incentives to districts that do so within the year.
"A year from now, I'll submit a budget that will penalize those who haven't embraced this common sense way to put more dollars in the classroom. For example, it just doesn't make sense to have 10 school districts in a single county buying separate software when they can save dollars and cents buying it together," Granholm said. "Consolidation of services makes sense, and it saves money. And whether it's by using a carrot or a stick, we are going to make it happen."
Niles Community Schools Superintendent Doug Law said he was encouraged by the governor's claim to not cut education funding, adding the expected cuts of $220 per student would have been "devastating" to districts across the state. The development of a budget is a "very political process," Law said, and the end result will not be known until it's too late for school districts to appropriately react if there's a cut.
"The rules have changed now that the House is Democratic. Sitting on the sidelines, we don't know what impact that's going to have on the whole budget process," Law said.
He also pointed out the difference between consolidation and privatization, and said school districts in Berrien County are already sharing educational resources among their students.
"There's a very strong sense of cooperation among the school districts in Berrien County in terms of providing career technical education for students. Berrien County is one of few places in Michigan where we make specialized programs at one high school available to all students in the county," Law said.
Niles schools could already be in line for additional funding mentioned by Granholm, Law said. If the district's proposed bond passes May 8, Law said all kindergarten students would be placed at Northside Child Development Center, opening up the opportunity to offer a full day program for kindergarten students.
Niles Mayor Michael McCauslin acknowledged there are a number of ways to streamline local government and education to make them more cost effective and efficient, and added any more cuts to revenue sharing would be "balanced on the backs of the local municipality."
"I'm still overall disappointed with our legislature, that they're still playing partisan politics." McCauslin added. "If you don't support or don't like the governor's plan, than propose a better one.
"I am not in the camp that says we need to raise taxes. I think we need to reorganize the state government," he said.