Superintendents react to governor’s budget proposal

Published 8:39 am Friday, February 7, 2014

Local superintendents were mostly pleased with Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget presentation Wednesday, which included an increase in K-12 funding, more money for the state’s school employees retirement system and an increase in funding for higher education.

The governor proposed devoting $11.7 billion in K-12 state appropriations, a $1 billion dollar increase from fiscal year 2011. That includes $150 million to increase the foundation allowance, translating to a range of $83 to $111 per student.

“This will be a big help for our district,” said Niles Superintendent Richard Weigel. “This additional funding will help with materials, technology and other needs across the district. This is a good move in the right direction and we are grateful for the financial help.”

There’s also an increase of $270 million for K-12 to fund the retirement liabilities within the school retirement system.

Weigel called this a smart move.

“If they were not paying down the retirement liabilities we would be absorbing those costs and that has the potential to bring about substantial hardships,” he said. “The state paying down this liability allows us to keep more of the money that we have in our foundation allowance.”

Snyder’s proposal contained an additional $80.3 million for the state’s public universities and $8.9 million more for community colleges. That is a 6.1 percent increase for universities and a 3 percent increase for community colleges. The new money comes with a caveat of limiting tuition increases to 3.2 percent.

“This budget is definitely on the right track to help education,” said Brandywine Supt. John Jarpe. “That said, I would like to see more foundation dollars for schools. I notice that universities got 6.1 percent for an increase and our K-12 is about three percent. I would like for K-12 to get the same consideration as the universities.”

Jarpe said he was pleased with the governor’s continued increase for preschool programs, increases for the lowest funded districts and pledge of $270 million to retirement funding.

The governor also proposed adding $65 million for the Great Start Readiness Program in hopes of eliminating the waiting list for early education and establishing a strong foundation for effective learning.

It’s a move Buchanan Superintendent Andrea van der Laan agrees with.

“I am pleased that more money is going toward preschool and the K-12 funding,” she said. “I read just the other day that students who don’t go to preschool come to kindergarten two to three years behind their peers. It then takes two years of growth every year from kindergarten to third grade to get students caught up. More money to help our preschoolers will save remediation costs in the future.”

Like Jarpe, van der Laan wondered why universities received a larger percentage increase than K-12.

“Before a student can get to college, he/she has to have the foundation skills. This seems backwards to me,” she said.

Other education highlights from the governor’s proposal include:

• A total of $2 million in new funding to pilot year-round school programs, which will encourage schools to consider balanced school calendars to improve learning.

• $7.3 million to provide greater support to financially distressed school districts.

• $27.8 million for the phased-in implementation of evaluation tools and systems for teachers and administrators.