News Story

How $10 Million Spending Increases Become K-12 Budget Cuts

In a recent Op-Ed in the hometown newspaper, Hartland Community Schools Superintendent Janet Sifferman wrote that Livingston County school districts have reduced their budgets “by millions of dollars.” On the Hartland Community Schools website, Sifferman said her district has reduced the budget by about $7 million in the last 10 years.

But general fund expenditures at Hartland have gone from $36.4 million in 2003 to $47 million in 2010, according to the Michigan Department of Education. Sifferman said the district did cut $7 million from its budget and that had they maintained the status quo, then that $47 million in 2010 would have been $54 million.

“I guess it is a matter of semantics,” Sifferman said.

Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, compared it to a person who decided not to buy a new Cadillac and then claimed not spending more on that luxury car was a budget cut.

“It’s pretty straightforward to most everyday citizens: If you spend more than you did before, it is not a budget cut, no matter how much you wish you could have spent,” Drolet said. “I cut my budget by not buying a brand new Cadillac this year. I also saved money by not buying a jet and taking a trip to France. Therefore I cut my budget, although I spent more.”

As a statewide debate has raged over school funding, schools have gone public with their message of budget cutting in an attempt to derail Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed K-12 cuts. Many are highlighting reductions in their budgets over a period of years, claiming the cuts but not mentioning that overall spending has increased over that same period.

Midland’s daily newspaper reported that Midland Public Schools cut $19 million “over the last decade.” But Midland’s general fund expenditure was $75.1 million in 2000 and $83.8 million in 2010.

The district’s general fund spending peaked at $92.9 million in 2008 and has dropped to $83.8 million two years later. However, Midland’s student enrollment has also dropped, from 9,484 in 2001 to 8,466 in 2011.

Midland Superintendent Carl Ellinger said in an email, “I don’t believe our district has stated that we are spending, overall, less than in past years; although that is certainly true in the immediate past few years. However, we have pointed out to the public that we have reduced programs, services, staffing, etc. (as per the Power Point on our District Web Site) over the past ten years and the Power Point specifically points out what those reductions are.”

The Observer & Eccentric newspaper reported that Livonia Public Schools cut “$44 million in expenditures … over the past decade.” Yet, the district’s general fund expenditure was $10 million more in 2010 than it was in 2000.

Livonia Superintendent Randy Liepa said budget reductions don’t necessarily mean that the overall budget was decreased.

“To show a simple example, if our energy costs increase by $100,000 and we have no added revenue to cover these costs, we must reduce costs somewhere else,” Liepa wrote in an email. “If we reduced three secretarial positions to balance the budget in this example, while I understand our total expenditures may be the same, it represents a real reduction in budgeted expenditures. “

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.