News Story

Flint School Officials Blow It Again On Budget, Heading Back Into Debt

A shadow of its former self, district enrolls just 16% the number of kids as in 2000

Earlier this fall, the Flint public school district refused to provide figures from its preliminary annual enrollment count to the news site MLive. Flint was the only district in Genesee County to not share these figures.

MLive did report that Flint Superintendent Derrick Lopez had said at a board of education meeting that the district had budgeted for 4,000 students.

That would signal trouble ahead for the district. The reason: Official audited enrollment figures have now been released by the Michigan Department of Education and they fell significantly short. The fall count for Flint Community Schools enrollment was 3,714, down from 4,245 in the 2018-19 school year.

Money follows the student in Michigan’s school finance system, and annual funding for districts is based largely on how many students they enroll. After overestimating this year’s enrollment, the Flint district is now operating on a budget that presumes it will collect a good deal more revenue than will be the case. 

Specifically, the district’s 2020 budget would project $2.4 million more than it will receive if it was based on an enrollment of 4,000 students.

The failure to accurately project enrollment is not an anomaly for this troubled school district. As reported by Michigan Capitol Confidential in 2014, the district has for years consistently overestimated its enrollment and spent more on regular operations than it collected. The habit, which started in the 2010-11 year, drove it into a multiyear debt.

District officials overestimated their general fund revenues by an average of $17.3 million annually from 2008-09 to 2011-12, according to official records.

Flint schools entered formal “deficit” (debt to the state) status in 2010-11 and did not emerge from that until 2017-18. Just a year later, though, the Michigan Department of Education now projects the district will again have red ink, to the tune of $3.3 million.

Among other issues, auditors reviewing the district’s previous year budget found that it failed to account for $2.4 million in expenses in 2019, with the difference coming out of scarce reserve funds.

While all this was happening, the district was also handing out pay hikes to teachers.

The Michigan Education Association reported that the district’s latest one-year teacher contract increases starting salaries by $3,000, increases other pay by an average of 2%, and includes longevity bonuses.

“We’ve been in a 10-year pay freeze, and in 2014 we gave up 19% from our contract,” said United Teachers of Flint President Karen Christian, according to the Michigan Education Association. “We still have debt, but we’re out of deficit. It was time for change.”

Flint teachers have experienced stagnant pay for years, a direct result of plummeting enrollment. Flint schools had 23,692 students in 2000, meaning it has lost nearly 20,000 students over the past 19 years. The current district educates just 16% of the students it did at the turn of this century.

The average salary of a Flint teacher was $74,989 in 2017-18, according to the Michigan Department of Education. But that number may have been misreported by the school district. The previous year, the state reported the average salary of the Flint district was $62,545. It’s unlikely salaries fluctuated by $12,000 in one year.