In spite of allegedly “devastating” state funding cuts to education, Grand Blanc Community Schools added nine teachers this year.
According to Clarence Garner, Grand Blanc Community Schools' director of personnel, the number of teachers the district employs increased from 463 in the 2010-2011 school year to 472 in the 2011-2012.
Garner provided the information to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Garner listed the number of teachers laid off by district at zero. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is in the process of collecting teacher layoff data statewide.
This is significant because the school district was at the center of the action regarding the attempt to recall state House Education Committee Chairman Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc.
Recall efforts have been taking place across the state, but the one mounted against Rep. Scott was the only one to successfully force a lawmaker to face a recall election. The question of whether or not he will retain his seat has been placed on the Nov. 8 ballot in the 51st House District.
As the state budget was being debated last spring, many school districts notified teachers of possible pink slips and publicized the potential layoffs. The Michigan Education Association government teachers union has claimed there was an epidemic of teacher layoffs due to a K-12 funding cut made by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Whether or not Grand Blanc's net increase in teachers is typical of what occurred across the state is not clear at this juncture. It does call into question, however, how many of the supposed teacher lay-offs allegedly taking place statewide really materialized
“Despite the fact that they had this funding cut on paper, the Grand Blanc Schools were apparently able to hire nine more teachers,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for the Michigan House Republican Caucus. “That would indicate that the best practices legislation we've enacted is helping save money while maintaining education quality. It seems to be standard practice in many school districts to claim there will be mass teacher layoffs and class sizes will explode whenever possible funding cuts and reforms are discussed. But when you see what actually happens, it becomes clear that these are just scare tactics designed to mislead the voters.
“I would say that in Grand Blanc's case, the district deserves credit for making tough decisions in these difficult times,” Adler added. “That's what the best practices legislation was supposed to do. It was designed to make sure school districts made the tough decisions that have been put off for far too long.”
Citizens Against Government Overreach is the local arm of the effort to recall Rep. Scott. CAGO spokesman Gary Carnahan said there could be any number of viable explanations for the additional teachers.
“It's hard to respond to this completely without having more details,” Canahan said. “I do know that the district has added new students and I assume that would be part of the reason for adding new personnel. I suppose it's possible that they used federal stimulus dollars. At any rate, I believe the real problems will come next year when the full effect of the cuts begin to have more of an impact.
“I do have to commend the superintendent for finding a way to hire more teachers under these circumstances,” Carnahan continued. “I think that's a lot better than if he'd added new administrators who wouldn't even have contact with the students.”
Grand Blanc Community Schools Superintendent Norm Abdella could not be reached for comment.
Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley said the hiring of additional teachers at Grand Blanc is proof that the union reaction to the changes Republicans are making in Lansing isn't really about the quality of education.
“The fact that the school district actually hired additional teachers demonstrates again that the recall against Paul Scott is not a local effort. It's an effort driven by angry union leaders back in East Lansing,” Studley said. “This disproves union claims that Gov. Rick Snyder, Paul Scott and the Legislature are anti-education or somehow treating teachers and kids unfairly.”
Various school districts have claimed this year's funding cut added up to a decrease of $100 or more per student. Republicans claim it was just $100 per student – and that money was used to help bolster schools' retirement costs. With federal dollars included, Michigan's per-pupil spending rate was $11,987 in 2010. With the $100 per-student reduction shifted to teacher retirement, some would argue that this year's level would be $11,887 per student.
In addition to the alleged funding cut, the MEA is opposing education reforms that are being passed and enacted by Gov. Snyder and the Legislature. These include doing away with collective bargaining advantages the union had established over the years, teacher tenure changes and best practice requirements tied to funding streams.
Overall, the recall petition drive in August was coordinated by the MEA in East Lansing with the assistance of Practical Political Consulting President Mark Grebner.