Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Even Harsher Reality

The following is an edited letter to my state legislative representatives:

School boards across the state requested a change to the sinking fund legislation to support technology and infrastructure needs. In exchange we got a sharp finger in the eye and rhetoric about taxes. These are not partisan issues, they are issues of survival. State aid will cut $370 per student at the very end of our school year. Stimulus dollars are supposed to fill the gap but many districts will have to borrow to get reimbursement. Next year is worse with a $590 per student shortfall, and not enough stimulus dollars to fill the gap. In 2010/11 the prospects are gruesome with projected shortfalls of nearly $1,000 per student and NO stimulus offset. For Birmingham, that wipes out ALL foundation allowance increases since 1994.

Voter approved sinking funds could offset some of this disaster while limited to an amount equal to the depreciation proxy of their physical asset base. But stronger state wide action is needed to save public education.

Birmingham has cut over $22 million from our budget over the last 7 years. We took the controversial (but correct) step of contracting our transportation and custodial providers. We trimmed administrative costs. We consolidated buildings years ago. We’re happy to share our insights.

Justifiably or not the House, the Senate, and the Governor are all perceived as contributing to a culture of "no" when presented with alternatives to the status quo.

For my State Representatives, here’s some ideas:
1. Get a statewide healthcare plan for teachers AND public employees. Set us on equal footing with the union monopoly and take advantage of scale.
2. Adopt the changes in sinking fund language, voters are grownups and they can decide.
3. Reform the pension funds -- under traditional accounting the state of Michigan would be functionally bankrupt when allocating the need to fund the actuarially accrued liabilities of the system (a shortfall of over $30 BILLION for teachers alone).
4. Mandate minimum district sizes - nothing under 4,000 students.
5. Mandate publicly disclosed negotiating positions for collective bargaining of public unions; this is my money I deserve to know how it is being bargained.
6. Mandate MESSA refund its cash holdings to districts and teachers - that is quick way to get $350 MILLION back to schools.

The savings are out there, but political will is required. Call your legislators and demand action today, tomorrow is too late.

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