What's being done to fix the financial problem in Michigan schoo - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

What's being done to fix the financial problem in Michigan schools?

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MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) - (05/05/14) - The state of Michigan schools look rocky.

Districts everywhere are dealing with tight budgets and facing major cuts.

So what's being done to fix the financial problem and ensure our kids get the best education possible?

It's an important question.

There seems to be a growing list of school districts in critical situations. While the state says it is working to help fix the problem, it's important that district leaders recognize the warning signs and act quickly.

Buena Vista Schools serve as reminder to Mid-Michigan of what can happen when finances are out of order.

The home of the Knights stood proud for 57 years. No question the district saw its share of ups and downs, and in 2013 reached its lowest, when the doors there closed forever.

The district ran out of money, couldn't operate and students were forced to go to neighboring schools.

It's a fate school districts across the state with multi-million dollar deficits are trying to escape.

According to the Michigan Department of Education's most recent quarterly report, 46 districts are operating in deficit this year. Six of them are in mid-Michigan.

Perry Public Schools anticipate eliminating the district's deficit by the end of the school year. Beecher Community Schools are counting on being debt free in 2015.

Saginaw and Bridgeport are on the road to reducing deficits, but Flint Community Schools deficit is projected to grow.

So what's causing the funding problems? Some say lack of support from Lansing.

"The funding has never been adequate in the schools," said Nancy Strachan, vice president of the Michigan Department of Education.

MDE says the number one factor causing budget shortfalls is student count.

"With declining enrollment comes declining funds from the state, and that's how these districts get into these problems," said Bill Disessa, of the MDE.

Statewide enrollment numbers are predicted to continue dropping.

With the writing on the wall, it's up to the school board members that you elected to make the difficult decisions.

"A misconception in some parts of the state I think that the Michigan Department of Education is sort of big government, comes in and tells the districts what to do, and we don't. We are bound by state law...districts tend to sugar coat their problems, they don't always want to confront them as often as they should and for those reasons they don't always do what they need to do. Sometimes they look at numbers through rose glasses," Disessa said.

Causing them to fall deeper in debt.

"You've got to be proactive," said Dr. Josha Tailson, superintendent, Beecher Community Schools.

Tailson says that's what helped his district emerge from financial crisis quickly.

"We had to make some very tough choices. The board of education, along with myself, had to make sure we stayed financially viable for our community," he said.

Beecher went into deficit last year unexpectedly and had to cut $250,000.

"That's like $2 million for a school district our size. That's a big chunk," Tailson said.

To shrink its budget, the board made the unpopular decision to shrink its staff right away. The small district let go of seven employees and reorganized its maintenance department.

"We almost cut like $400,000 in a year, which is major. Knock on wood, we'll be out of deficit, next year, July 1, we should actually have a surplus, a $50 - $1,000 surplus," Tailson said.

Tailson offers this advice to struggling schools.

"Accept the reality, don't sit and try and act like it's nothing, my mantra is live within your means," he said.

Meanwhile, there is a plan in the works in Lansing to help.

"The early warning system is something that is in next year's budget, and we do plan to roll that out next school year," Disessa said.

This new system would not burden administrators with additional paperwork, but would alert the Michigan Department of Education about troubled schools before they enter deficit. It would also expand the use of "academic plans" to make sure districts have what they need to educate students as they work to fix their finances.

"These districts that are hurting financially also tend to hurt academically," Disessa said.

MDE says it's all about taking action.

"To make sure we can get to districts earlier and help hem avert deficit situations," Disessa said.

And ensure students have what they need to succeed.

You might remember Inkster Schools near Detroit were also forced to dissolve last year due to debt.

In addition to the "early warning" system, Gov. Snyder is recommending a Financial Independence Team be established that would proactively help district's heading toward deficit.
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