News Story

West Michigan School Super Claims Budget Cuts — But Do the Numbers Add Up?

The superintendent of a Grand Rapids-area school district recently claimed that Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed cuts to schools were about union busting and said that his district cut $1.4 million from the budget this year. This appears to conflict with his own school’s audits.

Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Dave Britten told The Grand Rapids Press that his school cut $1.4 million from the budget in 2010-11. However, the school’s audit report on its website shows the school had $16.4 million in general fund revenues for 2009-10 and that this increased to $18.7 million in 2010-11. This is according to the district’s amended budget.

“How does that math work?” asks Michael Van Beek, the education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who fact-checked Britten’s claims.

Britten didn’t respond to an e-mail or phone message left at his office. The district said he was out of the office preparing for a community forum on budget cuts scheduled for Thursday night. A form letter that was prepared by the district to send to legislators claims that state revenues have been reduced since 2002.

Britten isn’t the only superintendent to claim that a school district’s budget was “cut” while it actually increased.

Walled Lake Superintendent Kenneth Gutman claimed that his district had cut $31 million from its budget over the past 10 years. But Van Beek found that the district’s budget increased from $119 million in 2000 to $159 million in 2011.

A Godfrey-Lee teacher with a bachelor’s degree and seven years of experience would have a $47,855 salary in 2008-09. That would rise to $51,255 in 2009-10, an increase of 7.1 percent for one year. That teacher would get another 5.7 percent raise in 2010-11, to $54,184, according to the district’s teacher union contract.

The current contract doesn’t call for any teacher contribution to health care premiums. But Van Beek said the 2009-2010 audit report available on the district's Web site states teachers will contribute toward their health care premiums for the first time in 2010-11.

The report does not identify how much they will contribute. The Kaiser Foundation has reported that private-sector employees contribute an average of 20 percent toward their health care coverage when they work for Michigan employers who offer a health care plan.

Britten was featured recently in a Grand Rapids Press article about Snyder’s budget cuts. He told the newspaper: “What they want is to break the union. I’ll point out the elephant in the room. That’s exactly what’s going on, and the general public doesn’t know it.”

“The general public honestly thinks that what’s going on in Lansing right now is to make schools better and to solve the state’s fiscal problems,” Britten said. “That’s not it.”

Britten told the Grand Rapids Press that the school cut $1.4 million from the budget in 2010-11 and $750,000 in 2009-10.

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.