News Story

Decade of Cuts Is Claimed by School District Giving 14 Percent Raises Over 24 Months

Has the Walled Lake Consolidated School District cut its budget by more than $31 million over the last decade?

That assertion is one of several talking points provided by the district’s superintendent in a recent letter sent to the district’s parents. But an education analyst sees numbers that say something else.

Walled Lake Superintendent Kenneth Gutman sent a March 15th letter to parents wherein he wrote, “Over the past 10 years, we have reduced our budget by more than $31 million. …”

The letter goes on to note that “it is extremely critical to communicate with legislators the impact the Governor’s proposed budget recommendations will have on students,” and then urges them, “Please contact the Governor and your legislators to make your feelings known.”

Hyperlinked email addresses are provided for the governor and several local lawmakers.

But Mackinac Center for Public Policy Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek says Walled Lake’s budget has increased from $119 million in 2000 to $159 million in 2011. Van Beek said he got the financial data from the Michigan Department of Education and Walled Lake’s own website. He points out that Walled Lake did cut its budget from $166 million in 2010 to $159 million this year.

Gutman said Tuesday he was going to check with his finance people on that data.

The letter states that Snyder has proposed a $470 per pupil cut to K-12 education and that the full impact of Snyder’s proposal “is the largest single annual cut in the history of education in Michigan and will most certainly negatively impact programs for our children.”

Gutman goes on to note that districts have implemented increased employee health care premium sharing and that “many districts no longer have ‘low hanging fruit’ to harvest.”

But Walled Lake still pays 100 percent of the premiums for the health insurance policies of their teachers. When a private-sector employer in Michigan provides health insurance, they typically pay only 80 percent of the cost, with the employee expected to kick in 20 percent of the payments.

Van Beek said that about 85 percent of a district’s typical costs come from its own employee pay and benefits.

A teacher at Walled Lake that had eight years of experience and a bachelor’s degree would have earned $57,736 in 2008-09, $61,695 in 2009-10 and $65,932 in 2010-11. That is a 14.1 percent increase over two years.

Walled Lake had 53 district employees in 2009 whose salaries were $100,000 or above.

Gutman is new to the district. In 2009, the total compensation of his predecessor was $292,400. That included a $17,500 district-funded tax shelter and a $34,341 contribution to his retirement.

Gutman's base salary is $193,000. He said he will take a yet-to-be-determined pay cut next year. He said he can't ask his employees to take a pay cut if he doesn't also.

“I'm going to lead the way...We absolutely all have to make sacrifices, you got no argument there,” Gutman said.

He said the district would go after concessions “from all groups” when the teacher’s contract expires in June. He said the unions understood that.

“We do recognize everyone has to sacrifice,” Gutman said. “Our costs are going up. It’s very difficult to give any raises.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.