In a May 10 letter to parents, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools said costs had been reduced by $90 million since 2001. Yet, L’Anse Creuse’s general fund expenditures have increased from $82.9 million in 2001 to $115.7 million in 2010. In 2010 dollars, spending per pupil outpaced inflation, going from $9,241 in 2001 to $9,398 in 2010.
Superintendent DiAnne Pellerin as well as other top school and union officials signed the letter. Pellerin didn’t return an e-mail asking what the $90 million in reductions included. Michelle Irwin, community liaison for the district, didn’t return a message left on voicemail. What’s unclear is how the school reduced $90 million from its budget since 2001 and yet still saw its budget grow every year from 2001 through 2010.
“It signifies that their costs are rising rapidly, there is no way around that,” said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “If you can cut $90 million and still have your expenses grow, then it is sort of a never-ending no-win cycle.”
L’Anse Creuse is one of many districts across the state telling parents and taxpayers about budget reductions while overall spending has increased.
The district’s teachers don’t pay anything toward their health care cost premiums, according to the latest contract on the district’s website. Van Beek said the district paid $15,345 per teacher in 2009 in health insurance costs, which is 48 percent more than the average premium cost in the private sector.
Requiring zero cost-sharing from the school employees for their health insurance is also an extraordinary benefit. When the typical employee in Michigan signs up with his or her employer’s health insurance plan, the average employer requires that 21 percent of the cost burden come from the employee, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And nationwide, the average is 27 percent.
Using the teacher’s union contract posted on the school’s website, Van Beek looked at what the salary history would be for a typical L’Anse Creuse teacher from 2006 through 2011. That teacher had a $42,079 salary in 2006-07 and it increased to $61,725 in 2010-11 — a 46.7 percent increase over four years. The teacher did get a master’s degree in 2009-10, which bumped her salary by $9,000. Van Beek said he presented the mythical teacher as earning a master’s in the fourth year because 72 percent of the teachers at L’Anse Creuse have a master’s degree.