News Story

Loss of Funding Not To Blame For School District Failures

For example, Albion Public Schools receives more per pupil than ever, yet it's closing its high school

While the Michigan Education Association continues to blame state budget cuts on the fiscal crisis facing some schools, many districts are getting more money per pupil but face dramatic drops in enrollment.

Albion Public Schools is just such a school. The school board voted last week to shut down its high school. The MEA blamed it on Gov. Rick Snyder's "budget cuts." 

But even after factoring in inflation, Albion received more money per pupil in 2011 than it did in 2007, according to the Michigan Department of Education. Including local, state and federal funding, Albion received $9,345 per pupil in 2006-07 ($10,138 in 2011 dollars). In actual dollars, Albion received $10,993 per pupil in 2010-11, the most recent year data is available.

The real problem facing Albion is the loss of students. In four years, the district lost 34 percent of its students, going from 1,427 pupils in 2007 to 943 in 2011. Meanwhile, the district reduced its teaching staff by 22 percent over the same time period, going from 91 classroom teachers to 71.

But the union contract didn't allow Albion to cut the least effective teachers. Instead, they were forced to keep the ones with the longest service, regardless of performance.

In 2007, the district employed 47 teachers who had 10 years of experience or less. By 2011, that number had dwindled by more than half, to 22. However, the number of teachers with 11 years of experience or more — the more expensive teachers — increased from 44 to 49.

Based on the union salary schedule, teachers with more seniority make more money. The average teacher's salary in Albion jumped from $47,558 in 2007 (not adjusted for inflation) to $53,080 in 2011.

"Part of Albion's problem may be that the district is retaining its most expensive teachers," said Audrey Spalding, an education policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "The district has used seniority to determine layoffs, instead of weighing the expense of retaining a teacher against the value that teacher provides to the district."

Earlier this month, the Albion school board decided to stop teaching high school students, according to MLive. 

That's a good decision, Spalding said, adding that "drastic times call for drastic measures."

As for the MEA continually blaming lack of funding for the fiscal mess at some schools, documents show that even those schools aren't buying the MEA's reasoning.

For example, the Buena Vista School District recently was closed when it ran out of money. However, the Michigan Department of Education gave the district state money it was withholding to allow it to resume operations.

In the deficit-elimination plan that Buena Vista school officials submitted to the state a year ago, they stated that the loss of students and not right-sizing the district fast enough was the reason for its deficit.

Pontiac Public School and Benton Harbor Public Schools also stated the loss of students as a major reason for its deficit in their deficit-elimination plans to the state.

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.