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Concerned citizens highlight special needs funding dispute between GISD and Flint Community Schools

Flint resident Arthur Woodson is among the concerned citizens who held a press conference Wednesday outside of the GISD over concerns about special education funding.
Flint resident Arthur Woodson is among the concerned citizens who held a press conference Wednesday outside of the GISD over concerns about special education funding.(ABC12 News)
Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 12:06 AM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Pastors, activists and other concerned citizens are speaking out about an ongoing dispute with the Genesee Intermediate School District over the way special needs funding is dispersed.

Earlier this year Flint Community Schools filed a formal objection about the matter.

RELATED: Flint superintendent files complaint with state over special education funding

Flint Community Schools says it’s not receiving enough special education funding from the Act 18 millage for the amount of students who require the services compared to other districts who don’t have as many special needs students.

Wednesday the concerned group of citizens gathered outside GISD with a letter addressed to residents of Flint and Genesee County.

They say Flint special education students are being cheated out of money based on a legal but unfair calculating system.

“So if it’s immoral it should not be a law in the first place. So today we just wanted to update the public, make sure they’re aware that this stuff is still going on, and hopefully GISD will do the right thing in the negotiations and up the level of funding for Flint city schools special education population,” said Pastor Dr. Herbert Miller, II.

Former FCS superintendent Dr. Derrick Lopez previously said the district has twice the number of students who require special education services compared to the state average.

The number of students statewide who require special education services is 12-percent. In Flint the number is roughly 24 to 26-percent.

Community members believe the water crisis and the effects of lead poisoning have only added to the need for special education in Flint.

That letter, which is the second one the group has distributed, sites public hearings this month where a judge said GISD’s system for calculating funding “seems unfair.”

The group says they’ve met with GISD leadership to try and come up with a solution.

Neither GISD or FCS commented on the continuing legal arguments.

In a statement to ABC12 GISD says the blended student count formula has been in place for years, and by statute, changing it would require a consensus from the superintendents, public school academy directors and the parent advisory committee.

Flint Community Schools Superintendent Anita Steward said, in part, the district is looking forward to continuing conversations with the GISD.

You can read the statements from GISD, FCS and the letters from the concerned citizen group here:

GENESEE ISD RESPONSE TO ACT 18 CONCERNS FLINT – The Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) was not made aware of the Press Conference that took place today at the GISD Davis Education Center and thus cannot comment specifically on what was stated at this event. Further, the GISD follows a practice of not commenting publicly on pending litigation or hearings. However, given the information distributed in a letter provided to local media at that event, we feel compelled to restate our continued commitment to Flint students, particularly those with special needs, as well as all students in Genesee County.

The GISD has made it clear since the start of this issue that we will continue to work collaboratively with district superintendents and public school academy directors in Genesee County towards the best possible Act 18 distribution formula for children in our county. Moreover, we have made it clear that, by statute, changing the Act 18 distribution formula is not at the sole discretion of the GISD, but instead requires consensus of the superintendents, public school academy directors, and the Parent Advisory Committee.

Since the formal objection was filed by Flint Community Schools, the GISD has followed the process defined in statute, including the current Act 18 hearing—to comment further on the hearing itself would be inappropriate as we await a decision.

In terms of the contents of the letter provided to local media, dated July 29, 2020, we would offer the following clarifications:

• Grand Blanc Community Schools have more special education students (defined as Special Education Head Count) than any other school district in Genesee County, including Flint Community Schools. However, Flint Community Schools has a higher “Special Education FTE” than any other school district in the county. Special Education FTE represents the proportion of time that a student with special needs spends in a special education program (as opposed to in a regular education setting). These are two significantly different data points.

• Twelve (of 56) intermediate school districts use the exact same blended student count formula used by GISD, with even more using a model that incorporates general education count. We are aware of only one intermediate school district in Michigan that uses the model recommended by Flint Community Schools (based solely on Special Education FTE).

• The ACLU lawsuit against Flint Community Schools, GISD, and the Michigan Department of Education is separate from the Act 18 Hearing, which resulted from the formal objection filed by Flint Community Schools to the GISD Mandatory Special Education Plan.

• The current Act 18 formula, which has been agreed upon by all districts for years (including Flint Community Schools prior to December 2019), is not created to be discriminatory in any way— most certainly not by race and poverty. In fact, if the plan submitted by Flint Community Schools in their formal objection were to be adopted, Beecher and Westwood Heights school districts would receive fewer dollars to educate their students with special needs than they do under the current plan. Negatively impacting children in those communities with nearly the same student demographics as Flint Community Schools is unacceptable. Further, 12 of the 14 public school academies in Genesee County would receive fewer dollars according to the plan submitted by Flint Community Schools. In total, 24 of the 35 districts and public school academies in Genesee County (68.5%) would receive fewer dollars to educate children with special needs in their respective schools under the plan submitted by Flint Community Schools. We continue to believe that collaboration and dialogue remain the best way to come to an amicable solution to this issue—a solution that supports students in all districts as opposed to creating “winners and losers” from the current plan. GISD is committed to working collaboratively towards that goal.

FCS statement from Superintendent Steward:

“We appreciate our community’s continued commitment and dedication to the children of Flint Community Schools. We have been working with the Genesee Intermediate School District on various matters pertaining to our district and the education of our students and look forward to continuing our conversations with them as we prepare for the successful start to another school year.”

Click here for letter from concerned citizens.

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