Saline school board trustees heard directly from state-level elected officials at Tuesday’s board of education meeting on a range of topics, from school funding to increased snow days this year.
School finances dominated the presentation, as State Reps. Donna Lasinski (52nd District) and Rebekah Warren (53rd District) along with State Senator Jeff Irwin (18th District) touted governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposed 2019 fiscal year budget, which carries increased funding for K-12 education as one of its promises for parents with school-age children across the state.
The per-pupil foundation allowance is expected to increase from $120 to $180 per student, while closing the funding gap that exists between students receiving the lowest amount of funding and those getting the most by $478, according to Lasinski.
"This is going to be one of the largest increases - I believe it will be the largest increase in student funding in the last 15 years," Lasinski said.
This proposed $235 million statewide investment in K-12 education also includes other provisions for targeted programs and children with greater educational needs, such as special education students.
Lasinski said the number of third grade literacy coaches funded by the state of Michigan would triple thanks to $2.5 million in new funding for that initiative, as an example of the funding targeted at those areas where the need is greatest in Michigan's primary education system, which state Dems say is underfunded and under-supported from its state government moreso than any other state in the country.
In response to criticism of Whitmer's budget, Lasinski clarified how the proposed increases should be characterized.
"These budget commitments, I truly believe are not over-commitments," she explained. "This is merely the budget reflecting what we need to do to adequately begin to address the funding levels we need in our schools to begin to address the value that our teachers, our administrators, the facilities and the buildings bring to education."
Despite expected resistance from state Republicans, Lasinski said she hoped a budget is passed with solidified per pupil funding levels set before the October deadline for the legislature to finalize its numbers, and ideally in time for the June 1 deadline, by which all Michigan school districts must have their budgets drafted and sent to Lansing as required by statute.
"We just don't know that that is going to happen in this legislative season," Lasinski said. "I do believe it will be a long process."
She encouraged the members of the school board, the district as a whole, and those residents attending and watching last night's meeting to contact members of state government and make their voices heard and their priorities known.
Board members asked follow-up questions of Lasinski, Warren and Irwin.
Board Trustee Dennis Valenti spoke specifically to the funding increase, saying that while it was a welcome turn of fortune for Saline Area Schools, the overall amount was just the beginning of what is necessary to address the needs of Michigan schools.
"It's good we're getting an increase ... but the per pupil funding, I think the increase is less than 2 percent and really inflation is 2 percent, so at best we're holding at bay with this," Valenti said. "We're not getting an increase in real dollars."
Warren spoke to a topic that's still on people's minds: the harsh mid- to late-winter and the havoc it brought to the early 2019 school calendar this year.
A bill is in the works to potentially address this issue. The legislation is currently being negotiated and drafted in an education work group after coming out of the Michigan Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee.
One of the sticking points is making sure that all workers are paid for snow days, including lower pay workers like those in school food service, grounds-keeping, and bus drivers.
With some districts in the state having accrued 20 closure days due to snow and cold, the 40,000 statewide employees in these categories are a large financial consideration.
While some districts have contracts that address this specific situation, others do not. Warren said that she'd like to see a bill proposed that takes this and other details into consideration while addressing the fact that some Michigan schools will need to be in session for the 2018-2019 school year into June and in some cases even July to meet their statutory minimum requirement of open school days for students.
"If we don't get a bill ready and signed into law the traditional policy stands and any days missed would have to be made up for at the end of the year," Warren said.
Senate Bill 122 (2019)
Irwin reported on a recently passed senate bill that would make teacher evaluations more heavily weighted by student test scores. Currently those comprise 25 percent of a teacher's evaluation. The bill would increase that to 40 percent.
"There are a number of folks who thought that would be a problem for our schools," he explained. "Certainly I come to this with a perspective that these tests that we're using don't do a good job of measuring quality of instruction. They do a good job of measuring the income of the parents."
Irwin said he will continue to push to focus on quality of instruction over test scores when taking such matters into consideration.
The bill did leave the senate with a one-year sunset on it, so school districts have time to adjust if and when it passes into law.