On May 2, voters in the Kent ISD region will be asked to approve a 0.9 mill tax for local school districts, generating $211 per student to maintain programs, improve services and meet other needs. School News Network is offering information on what the millage means for each of the 20 districts in the Kent ISD. Today we focus on Rockford Public Schools. SNN spoke with Superintendent Michael Shibler.
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How much revenue would your district gain from the millage in the first year?
What would you spend that increased revenue on, and how would this help your students?
The first priority is to maintain current programs, Shibler said – no easy task, given that Gov. Snyder’s proposed state aid increase of 1.3 percent once again is less than the cost of living. Had state aid kept pace with the COL since 2008-09, the district would have received an additional $7.2 million this year, he said.
“I tell parents, ‘How many businesses can operate over a period of time with less than the cost of living in new revenue?’” Shibler said. While the enhancement millage would help cover day-to-day operations, he added, it “won’t even come close to closing the gap between the cost of living and expenses.”
In meetings so far among the 55 scheduled with parents and community groups, he shows a graph illustrating the yawning gap between actual state dollars received and what COL adjustments would have yielded over the years. “That resonates with people,” he said.
Other uses of the enhancement millage over the next 10 years include:
- Stabilizing or reducing class sizes. The district has worked hard to keep K-3 class sizes as small as possible, but some in higher grades are too large, such as 32 in high school AP English, Shibler said.
- Attracting and retaining quality staff. Research shows thousands of fewer college students going into teaching than in the past, Shibler said, meaning districts are “going to have to compete for teachers coming out of college just to stay in Michigan.”
- Expanding early college programs with Ferris State University and Grand Valley State University, and possibly adding other universities.
- Increasing technician support for the $15 million in technology upgrades funded by the 2014 bond issue.
- Increasing the district budget fund balance from 3.4 percent to at least 8 percent over five to eight years. Auditors recommend 10 percent.
- Updating instructional materials such as textbooks, some of which date to the 1980s.
“To me it comes down to being able to provide additional funding so we can improve the quality of what we offer our students … and increase opportunities for our students,” Shibler said.
If the millage were to fail, what changes or cuts would you have to make next school year?
Basically, at best the district would maintain current programs, but none of the improvements listed above could happen, Shibler said. However, he added, “If the Legislature comes up with something less (in state aid), I can’teven promise that.”
The district would aim to maintain its fund balance, he said, and is not anticipating having to cut staff or programs. However, he cautioned that many financial variables are still unknown, most significantly whether the state provides at least Snyder’s proposed school funding increase, and what other costs the state will face. “School districts will be competing as one of those groups for additional revenues.”
What objections have you heard, if any, from your community, and what is your response?
Shibler said he’s not heard opposition at meetings with parents and civic organizations, though he’s aware there is a non-district group opposing the countywide request. He said he is not pushing people to vote yes, but wants them to make an informed vote.
“If there’s a negative group that wants to run against this campaign, so be it,” he said. “But we’ll do our best to inform our constituents what the facts are and let them make an educated choice.”