News Story

Rochester Schools Raise Pay, Report Cuts, and Blame Governor

The Oakland Press reported last week that Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposals regarding school funding would cut $11 million from Rochester Community Schools in 2011-12, citing district figures presented to the board of education.

However, the $11 million in “cuts” included – among other things – a loss of $4.6 million in federal dollars, the loss of $250,000 in rent from a church, and a reduction of $394,000 from a forecasted loss of 63 students. None of these will be caused by the governor’s plan.

And Rochester Community Schools also appears to have misrepresented a claim that it has cut $28 million since 2001-02. Budget documents on its own website show its general fund expenditures have grown from $110.6 million in 2001-02 to $158.8 million in 2010-11. That data comes from the Michigan Department of Education and the district’s web site.

The list of alleged “cuts” include revenue gains in areas such as pay-to-play fees for athletics,  increasing the ticket prices at sporting events and gaining $97,300 by enrolling 26 non-resident students.

“Using this definition of a cut, the only way a school district would avoid cutting their budget would be to never reduce the cost of anything ever,” said Michael Van Beek, the education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “By representing their fiscal situations in this way, public schools give the impression that their chief purposes are to provide jobs and just spend as much money as possible. Their purpose is to provide educational services, and they should be constantly striving to do that as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Superintendent David Pruneau didn’t return emails seeking comment. The district said he was sick Thursday and Friday. District Spokeswoman Debbi Hartman said Friday that it was possible the $28 million in cuts mistakenly included revenue gains and would check into it. But Hartman didn’t respond later Friday.

In the Oakland Press article, Pruneau laments facing a $16 million budget shortfall.

“Under any circumstances, for us to come now and face a $16 million shortfall in one year is unprecedented,” said Pruneau. “We have pruned and carefully positioned ourselves so that we were in this position to actually have a fund equity in this point in time.”

However, the district approved a new contract with its teachers in December 2010 that allowed for significant raises. This happened even though school districts throughout Michigan have been on notice about the impending funding problems at the state level.

According to the new contract, a teacher that started with a bachelor’s degree in 2009-10 with a $38,074 salary would get a 9.9 percent raise to a salary of $41,872 in 2010-11 and is due a 7.1 percent raise in 2011-12 that would increase the salary to $44,881.

The new contract used as an example how a teacher with a master’s degree would go from $65,772 in salary from 2010-11 to $71,273 in 2011-12, an 8.3 percent increase.

Rochester teachers contributed $346 per year for health care premiums in 2011 and $377 per year in 2012. That family plan comes with a $200 annual deductible. The school’s web site lists the 2010 cost for a teacher’s health care benefits, including dental and life insurance, to be $21,666. That would mean the annual contributions for premiums by teachers would be about 1.5 percent of the district’s total cost.

By comparison, the average private sector employee with an employer-provided health care option pays 21 percent of the employer’s cost.

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.