KALAMAZOO Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged Monday that his proposed cut in K-12 funding is “difficult” for local school districts, but denied it is an attempt to break the unions.
“People are coming up with all sorts of motivations that don’t exist,” he said. “I believe in collective bargaining.”
He also said that he is not advocating rollbacks in salaries, saying he sees the bigger changes occurring in benefits. “We would want to hurt people’s pay as little as possible,” he said.
The governor maintains that there’s “lots of room for reforms” that will allow districts to absorb the cuts, and he will be presenting his vision of how the K-12 system might restructure next month.
Snyder spoke to the Kalamazoo Gazette in a telephone interview immediately after his address Monday at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, which was held at the Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites in downtown Kalamazoo.
Snyder is proposing to cut almost $960 million from the states K-12 budget, about 5.3 percent of the $18 billion spent to operate Michigans K-12 schools. Schools also would see a hefty increase in their contribution to the school employees retirement system. In total, the impact on schools would be about $715 per student.
For the nine school districts based in Kalamazoo County, those changes would force cuts of $26 million, 8.2 percent of their collective operating budgets. Kalamazoo Public Schools, which has a budget of $130 million, would see an impact of $11.3 million.
Local superintendents have called the proposed cuts unfair and unacceptable. They say Snyder is pushing an agenda that will lead to union-busting and privatization of public education. “This is to further the agenda of privatization,” Ron Fuller, superintendent of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, said last week.
They also said it would leave many districts in deficit spending and vulnerable to takeover under the state’s new emergency financial manager law.
Snyder said Monday that he is proposing to cut K-12 funding to bring state spending in line with revenues. “It’s being fiscally responsible,” he said.
Educators say that’s a false argument in the case of the K-12 cuts.They point out that the states School Aid Fund is relatively healthy, and the budget cuts are a result of moving higher education from the states general fund budget into the School Aid Fund.
“It is a manufactured crisis,” created by diverting K-12 dollars to higher education, Fuller said. He and others say the move breaks faith with Proposal A, the 1994 voter-approved law that created today’s system for K-12 funding.
Snyder denied that Monday, saying his proposal “does not violate the spirit of the state constitution.” The School Aid Fund was established before Proposal A, but the law established a new and increased revenue stream for the fund. Until now, however, those monies have not been used for state universities, which have gotten their $1.5 billion subsidy from the general fund.
Snyder already has proposed two specific reforms for districts: Have employees pay 20 percent of insurance costs and cut 10 percent of non-instructional spending. “We’re not just giving them a problem,” Snyder said. “We’re offering solutions.”
Michael Rice, superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, has pointed out those proposed solutions still leave many districts far short: For KPS, the impact of the spending plan is $11.3 million a change to a 20 percent insurance co-pay would save less than $3 million and the district’s noninstructional expenses include utilities. “Do we cut that?” Rice said last week.
Told of Rice’s comments, Snyder acknowledged that “districts will vary” on how they handle the budget cuts.
“I’m looking forward to dialogue with school officials on how to do this,” Snyder added. He said those discussions will begin after he details his plans for education next month.
The governor maintains there are “dozens” of reforms that schools can enact to trim their budgets, and he is hoping local districts will try to be as creative as possible in adjusting to new spending limits.
“We need to have a great education system,” Snyder said. “But these are difficult economic times.”
Contact Julie Mack at (269) 388-8578 or at .