News Story

When School Fee Hikes Count as ‘Budget Cuts’

At Rochester Community Schools, when the district increased fees for students to play sports or join extracurricular activities, this was counted as “budget deficit reductions” and reported as such to the media.

At Clarkston Community Schools, an increase in federal funds and a projection of more state revenue from additional students was classified as “budget reductions.”

At L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, each one-time budget cut is re-counted each successive year when the district boasts of its cost-saving prowess. For example, a single batch of $500,000 in cuts made in 2001 was added to every succeeding year of reports so that by 2010 it was reported as a $5 million “cumulative” reduction. In a May 10 letter to parents, the district said its costs had been reduced by $90 million since 2001. 

And yet all three districts report general fund budget growth that matches or exceeds inflation over the last few years when these cuts were reportedly enacted. Michigan Capitol Confidential requested and received documents detailing the reported cuts at the three school districts.

L’Anse Creuse’s general fund expenditures have increased from $82.9 million in 2001 to $115.7 million in 2010. The 2010 budget that is now $11 million more than it would have been if spending growth had just matched inflation over the decade.

L’Anse Creuse Superintendent DiAnne Pellerin said in an email that the re-counting of one year’s budget cut every successive year was “a means of communicating the cumulative impact of budget reconciliation efforts that have occurred over time. Programs, positions, etc. that have been eliminated or reduced have not been replaced or restored and, under current financial circumstances, are not likely to be.”

But Ralf Seiffe, research director at the nonprofit Institute for Truth in Accounting in Illinois, said L’Anse Creuse’s accounting was “a huge stretch” if overall spending is still rising.

“The real cost of schools is what you spend on them, not what you might have spent or what you cut from what you weren’t going to spend,” Seiffe said. “This is ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ kind of stuff. This makes no sense at all.”

The Oakland Press reports that Rochester Community Schools claims nearly $28 million in cuts since 2001. Budget documents on the district website show general fund expenditures have grown from $110.6 million in 2001-02 to $158.8 million in 2010-11, leaving the budget $22 million higher than it would be with growth that paced inflation over the time period.

Besides categorizing increases in “pay to play” fees and fees for school clubs as budget cuts, Rochester also claimed hikes in ticket prices for athletic contests and rent it received from rental properties as part of “budget deficit reduction measures.” Superintendent Rod Rock said his district has “avoided or reduced” expenditures by $16 million since 2007.

Clarkston’s general fund expenditures were $79.3 million in 2007 and increased to $83.7 million in 2010, just about matching the rate of inflationary growth.

In 2009-10, Clarkston claimed it made $1.8 million in reductions. But more than $1 million of those cuts are an increase in revenue from a projection of 30 more students and the “premise” that the district would receive $860,000 more in federal funding.

Rock said that the school has decreased the budget through cuts and not funding programs, but also acknowledged that they also included increased revenue and anticipated federal funding hikes as cuts in the analysis.

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.