A teachers union leader's claim that the Warren Consolidated Schools were so hurting for money that students didn't have desks and had to sit on the floor is being disputed by district officials.
Jennifer Miller, Warren Education Association executive director, said the district had "kids on the floor without any desks" at a Michigan Education Association rally at Sterling Heights' Dodge Park on May 24, according to CandGNews.com.
Brian Walmsley, the district's chief economic officer, said he wasn't aware of any instances where students sat on the floor without a desk.
"I work directly with the principals," Walmsley said. "They would be the ones bringing it to my attention."
Walmsley said enrollment fluctuates, but even if there was a classroom short of a desk or two, there was furniture available in the district that could be moved around to meet any shortage.
"That is not acceptable," Walmsley said.
Miller didn't respond to an e-mail and a phone message left at her office.
Michael Van Beek, the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Miller's statements ignored the options the district had to find money for classrooms.
For instance, the district's website states that it isn't considering privatization.
It states: "At this time, there ARE no plans to privatize or outsource any union JOBS in WCS. This current Board of Education remains committed to the employees who work in the district and THE BOARD RECOGNIZES the value the EMPLOYEES bring to the organization and the larger community." [Emphasis in original].
By way of contrast, the Troy Public School District, adjoining Warren to the west, saved $4 million by privatizing transportation, custodial and food services, Van Beek said.
The state pension system for public school employees requires that retirees pay about 10 percent of their health care premiums. But the Warren Consolidated Schools' union agreement requires the district to make that payment for the retirees.
There are 661 teachers who don't pay anything toward the cost of their health insurance, according to the school's 2008-09 data. If the district required them to pay the 10 percent, that would save $838,000, Van Beek said. That could buy 10,000 14-gauge welded steel desk-chair combinations with solid plastic tops.
The average salary of a Warren school teacher is $73,421.
"Portraying the schools' fiscal situation in this way ignores that there are plenty of proven ways the district can save money without impacting student learning," Van Beek said.
Van Beek did an analysis of school spending in March that showed only $8.8 million of a $554 million tax increase that has been proposed to help Michigan schools would go to teaching, testing supplies and textbooks.
The analysis found $434 million would go to school employee salaries and benefits.
Van Beek based his analysis on spending patterns of Michigan schools released in a 2008 spending data report provided by the Center for Educational Progress and Information. He projected those spending habits onto Gov. Jennifer Granholm's service tax proposal that would generate $554 million for schools.
Leon Drolet, director of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said unions are stealing money from students.
"These union teachers would sell those desks to add to their own pension if they could, and essentially they have," Drolet said. "The teachers union has essentially traded desks, books and pencils for jackpot pensions and platinum benefits. By making demands for extraordinarily rich benefits, they have essentially stolen those desks from their children in collusion with the school boards and a state Legislature unwilling to block this theft."