Funding Crucial to Maintaining Programs, Attracting Teachers
Kent ISD Enhancement Millage on May 2 Ballotby Erin Albanese
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 Godwin Heights Public Schools. SNN spoke with Superintendent William Fetterhoff.
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?
"We want to maintain current opportunities for our kids, and that's pretty widespread," Fetterhoff said. This is a continual challenge because state per-pupil funding has not kept pace with inflation and needs in the high-poverty district, he said. "We just can't keep up with costs, and we are victim of the fact that our students are starting out at a disadvantage in terms of educational opportunities."
Though enrollment has been stable and the district has used funding wisely, it is faced with ongoing budget challenges, he said. The district's fund balance –– or savings –– has declined from 22 percent to under 7 percent, well short of the 15 to 20 percent recommended by the Michigan School Business Officials. "We still don't have enough funds for what we need to get our students caught up and make them competitive," Fetterhoff said.
Revenues would also go toward English-language learner support, possibly for more certified staffing. The district has a growing population of ELL students, most of them Hispanic.
Money would also go toward attracting, retaining and training high-quality teachers. As teachers retire or leave the district, there are fewer new teachers to fill the void, he said, meaning Godwin has to compete with other districts in hiring.
Another area of need is in mental health and behavioral support including counselors and behavioral specialists. A counselor was added at Godwin Heights Middle School and behavior specialists at North and West Godwin elementary schools this school year. "We are really looking to the county millage so we don't have to eliminate those programs."
Other funding priorities are dual-enrollment programs, where students earn college credits in high school; supplemental curriculum costs; professional development; extracurricular costs; and technology support to keep equipment current. The district covers athletic and band costs, including instruments, because many parents can't afford them.
"We really believe that a healthy district is holistic in terms of its offerings, not only academic but extracurricular as well," Fetterhoff said. "In the past we've been growing those, putting them back in place after they've diminished. We're going to be unable to continue to do that, let alone sustain what we have, unless we have some supplemental dollars coming in."
If the millage were to fail, what changes or cuts would you have to make next school year?
Programs mentioned above would be considered for cuts, depending on student enrollment and the state's final per-pupil funding allocation. "All these things are really dependent upon supplemental dollars," he said.
What objections have you heard, if any, from your community, and what is your response?
"None at all about the countywide millage, or what our proposal would be to use those dollars in the best interest of our schools."