The Schools' Fiscal Cliff
The cliff is the seemingly inevitable bankruptcy of every public school district in Michigan. The Buena Vista district, outside Saginaw, ran out of money in May and closed down. Bleeding students and money, the Ypsilanti and Willow Run districts merged in July. Later that month, the Inkster system dissolved; like Buena Vista, Inkster terminated its staff and sent its students to surrounding districts.
And it's not just poor districts at risk. Dexter school board president Larry Cobler seconds Nelson's belief that if present trends continue, "at some point every school district in the state is either going to be under an emergency financial manager or go bankrupt."
One-third of the AAPS's budget comes from local millages, but all the rest comes from the state--and over the last five years, the legislature has repeatedly cut that funding. "It happened first in the last year of the Granholm administration," says board president Deb Mexicotte. "We were cut midyear, and that created a tens-of-millions-of-dollars deficit. There's also an ongoing six-to-seven-million dollar structural deficit caused by state funding cuts, and in the past several years they've cut us ten million dollars above that."
Mexicotte blames Proposal A, the state school funding shift that voters approved in 1994. "Rich districts were set up to help poor districts, so the poorer districts were getting more money while the state sent us less," she says. "That helped the poorer districts, but between rising mandates and cost-of-living increases, we can't keep up."