News Story

The ‘Real World’ vs. Public School Budget Cuts

Public rhetoric about public school funding has heated up recently with several school districts announcing that they are making much more significant cuts than their own budgets show. News organizations have been parroting the claims.

In a March board meeting, Rochester Community Schools Superintendent David Pruneau told his board of education that they had cut $13 million in services and programs over the past three years and congratulated them on negotiations with some of the employee unions. He then bemoaned a $16 million budget shortfall the district was facing, saying the administration and board hadn’t been “shortsighted.”

However, according to the Michigan Department of Education and the district’s own website, general fund expenditures had increased — not been cut — from $154 million in 2007-08 to $158 million in 2010-11. And about four months earlier, the district approved a new contract with its teachers that allowed for significant raises.

The new contract spells out in an example how a teacher with a master’s degree would go from $65,772 in salary in 2010-11 to $71,273 in 2011-12. This is an 8.3 percent annual increase. Newer teachers would see raises ranging from 7.1 percent to 9.9 percent.

“They don’t live in the real world,” said Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “The fact that they are getting those kind of increases in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression … shows how out of touch with reality they are.”

Pruneau didn’t respond to emails seeking comment. His office said he was out sick Thursday and Friday.

Rochester isn’t the only school putting a public face on its financial plight that differs significantly from what its own union contracts and budgets show.

“These school officials are getting away with it because the media isn’t doing their job,” Owens said.

Other examples:

  • Saline Superintendent Scot Graden told that his district had cut $6.8 million in expenses over the last three years. But Saline’s general fund expenses climbed from $51.2 million in 2008-09 to a budgeted $51.8 million for 2010-11. The information was available on the district’s website, located in their annual audits. Graden didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
  • Godfrey-Lee Superintendent David Britten was quoted in the Grand Rapids Press saying that the school had cut $1.4 million from its budget for 2010-11. However, budget documents show the district’s general fund revenues increased from $16.4 million in 2009-10 to $18.7 million in 2010-11. In an email, Britten said the increase in his budget was due to federal dollars awarded after the planning of the budget.
  • Walled Lake Superintendent Kenneth Gutman claimed that his district had cut $31 million from its budget over the past 10 years. But that district’s budget increased from $119 million in 2000 to $159 million in 2011.
  • An East Grand Rapids Public Schools letter to Michigan legislators claimed that the district has “removed $3.5 million from costs from our system” since 2005-06. However, overall, East Grand Rapids’ general fund expenditures have increased from $23.8 million in 2005 to $28.1 million in 2011.

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.