A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

School District Late To Make Changes

Taylor School District has 20-year history of declining enrollment; hasn't cut spending to match

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The Taylor School District is in danger of becoming a miniature Detroit Public Schools if it doesn't do more to cut spending in the face of a decades-long drop in enrollment, said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Van Beek made his comments after reviewing the proposed 5-year contract the Taylor School Board and the Taylor Federation of Teachers tentatively agreed upon. The contract will be put to union membership to be ratified Feb. 6. The contract is a big part of how the district plans to eliminate a nearly $6 million deficit this year.

The deal also ensures that employees won't be able to exercise their right to opt out of the union and not financially support its activities until the extended contract expires.

Late last year Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state in the nation. The law gives workers the freedom to choose whether they want to be members of the union and doesn't result in their firing if they opt out for not paying dues or agency fees.

In response, many teacher unions across the state are trying to extend contracts or amend them with security clauses before the law goes into effect March 28. Doing so locks their members into long-term contracts and forces them to continue paying dues or fees to the union.

The Taylor School District's problem is that its enrollment has plummeted and it has not cut costs to match the reduction in students. In 1991-92, Taylor had 13,092 students. That number dropped to 7,790 in 2010-11.

In 19 of the past 21 years, the Taylor School District has had a drop in enrollment. In 2008-09, the district went from 8,889 students to 7,443 in 2011-12, a 16 percent drop.

Yet, School Board President John Reilly said he thinks the district can get back many of the students who live in the city of Taylor but don’t attend the district and also attract more students to a new cyber school.

That's why he said the district was able to offer back concessions to the teachers in the fourth and fifth year of the contract.

The contract states a teacher will take a 10 percent cut in 2012-13 and then get a step increase in 2013-14 with salaries frozen in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but then rise back up to pre-reduction levels in 2015-16 with another raise in 2016-17.

A Taylor teacher with 11 years experience and a master's degree would have made $68,528. That salary would drop to $62,888 in 2013-14 but eventually finish at $70,223 in 2016-17.

The Taylor district had a deficit of $5.9 million in 2011-12. It was in danger of losing its state funding had it not submitted a deficit elimination plan to the state by Feb. 1.

Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education, said they are reviewing Taylor’s plan and wouldn’t release it until the state either approves or rejects it.

"On a minor scale, this is Detroit Public Schools," Van Beek said, comparing Taylor to the state’s largest city that could not cut staff levels fast enough to match its loss of students. "That is what happened in Highland Park. That is what happened to Muskegon Heights."

Both Highland Park and Muskegon Heights were turned into charter public schools after the state appointed emergency managers to take over the districts.

Van Beek said it would have been better to just sign a one-year contract and get a better understanding of where enrollment will be than to lock in expenses for five years.

"They don't know what is going to happen with enrollment," Van Beek said. "They've got a 20-year history of steadily declining enrollment."

Taylor has made efforts to cut staffing levels. The district had 462 full-time general education classroom teachers (not including special education) in 2004-05, which dropped to 352 in 2010-11. Van Beek said that still didn’t match the drop in enrollment.

"It's not an easy thing to do, but you do need to downsize," he said.

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See also:

School District Reaches Five-Year Contract Preventing Teachers From Leaving the Union