Sunday, June 26, 2005

Another Letter to Michelle McManus

I wrote another letter to State Senator Michelle McManus about the state of Michigan's school funding. I still haven't heard anything from her about my May 2 letter. She must still be doing research.

Here's today's letter. I sent it to her Senate email address and submitted it in her online comment form.

Dear Michelle,

Tuesday we saw parents and educators rally in Lansing in favor of correcting the inadequate funding of Michigan’s public school system.

It is high time. Our schools’ expenses go up constantly while the per pupil grant has remained flat for years. A survey by the Michigan School Business Officials reports that over half the public schools in Michigan expect to lay off staff during the coming year. 79% will need to dip into their fund balances to make it through the year.

I am glad to see school funding getting attention in Lansing. I would be happier yet to see you and your colleagues acknowledge that there is a problem and commit yourselves to working on a comprehensive solution that works for all of our schools.

When I talk to parents they are confused and frustrated. The voters approved Proposal A in order to give schools a stable and adequate source of funding. We agreed to a hike in the sales tax and we agreed to let property tax dollars flow out of our district in order to achieve to goal of adequate funding for Michigan’s public schools. The story of how we got to our current situation is complex, but it is fully explained on the website I referred you to back in April:

Proposal A earmarks percentages of income taxes, property taxes and sales tax for the School Aid Fund. While the Legislature cannot change the wording of Proposal A, it has been careless in approving changes to the underlying tax laws that have left the School Aid Fund seriously underfunded.

The proposal put forth by the K-16 Coalition seeks to mandate adequate funding for public schools and universities, but it does not address the question of where the money should come from. You should also note that across the board annual increases will widen the gap between the best funded schools and the least funded schools. (This is particular galling in districts like Leland that already send out many more dollars in property taxes than we receive in school funding.) The proposal is a band-aid approach to a complex problem.

There are a number of more fair and more practical approaches. Certainly we need to look at minimizing the effect of health insurance and retirement costs in school budgets. Perhaps all school districts should be offered the same opportunities that the “20j hold harmless” districts get, to hold millages at the local level for enhancements to education. But I think the real work will be to roll back the tax cuts and tax exemptions that have done so much harm to the basic premise of Proposal A.

It is time to open a serious discussion on school funding. This problem cannot be blamed on the economy or school administrations. It requires leadership in the Legislature, and I think you could fill this role.

I am available to discuss this issue further, now that our seniors have graduated. Call me at home 231-256-8876, or email me at

Susan Och

51 S French Road

Lake Leelanau, MI 49653

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