Michigan education budget jeopardizes East Lansing employment

By Tony Briscoe
Entirely East Lansing staff writer

Michigan State University, along with East Lansing Public Schools, has planned for numerous layoffs in 2011.

In East Lansing, a city that hasn’t seen the brunt of the brutal Michigan unemployment crisis, there might be a rude awaking considering the city’s largest industry—education—is on the brink of facing major cuts.

See a Breakdown of East Lansing’s Work Force

Gov. Rick Snyder’s original education budget proposal calls for a merger of higher education and K-12 schooling in public institutions. The bill also demands a 15 percent cut of the state’s 15 public universities and a $470 per-pupil cut for grades K-12.

While the state would save Michigan $900 million if the bill is passed according to Kurt Weiss, Public Information Officer for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, cities like East Lansing, which encompass a large university and public school district, could be in trouble if both entities are expecting layoffs.

According to the House Fiscal Agency, East Lansing Public Schools will be expected to cut $1,055,910 in spite of a substantial deficit they face presently. Not surprisingly, ELPS is expecting teacher layoffs said Superintendent Dave Chapin.

Chapin said the layoffs for ELPS will be as follows (1.0 being equal to one full-time employee in terms of hours worked): 4.0 in K-6 staffing, 4.0 in 7-12 staffing, 3.0 in special education staffing, 1.4 in general education counseling at the elementary-level, 1.0 reduction in high school administrative staffing, 1.0 secretarial staff and a reduction of the HR assistant position.

The total amount of cutbacks, including layoffs, will knock approximately $2 million off the $2.7 million school district budget deficit.

“The suddenness of the statutory requirement that we have by June 30 is disappointing and we’re struggling to find the logic in this decision,” said Chapin concerning the education’s budget’s switch from being a $170 to a $470 per-pupil reduction.

Michigan State University will be sending out pink slips as well. As a matter a fact, MSU is anticipating a contraction of about 134 positions from 2010 to 2011. Yet, even more have been jobs have been cut since 2009. From 2009 to 2011, 352 full-time positions have been terminated.

See a Breakdown of MSU Layoffs

“Through all of this, we have been preparing for these difficult times, but to prepare for them with an orientation that we need to continue to serve Michigan students, and indeed, we are up in the ten-year period in numbers of students, our graduation rates are up, our persistence rates (the rate of freshmen returning to their sophomore year) are up, and our research amounts are similarly up,” said Dave Byelich, Assistant Vice President and Director for the Office of Planning and Budget.

In addition, MSU cut healthcare spending five percent in 2011 and will raise tuition seven percent in 2012.

However, MSU’s budget figures, like ELPS’, are based off the assumption that the budget the governor proposed in February will be passed. Currently, the bill is being reviewed by the House and Senate subcommittees on education.

“Some of the changes have included stripping out the incentive portion for higher ed, lowering the per-pupil cut for K-12, not incorporating the school aid fund with higher education budget,” said Weiss. “So, there have many proposals by the subcommittees.”

Among the organizations that want the budget to be revised is the Michigan Education Association.

“Right now there’s a surplus in the school aid fund, so there’s no reason for the cuts,” said Rosemary Carey MEA spokeswoman. “(Snyder) once said that education was a priority, but actions are not indicating that.”

In February, state Budget Director John Nixon said that these cuts don’t necessarily have to affect classrooms.

Nixon said: “If all of the school districts were to go to an 80-20 split on their healthcare contributions, that would put them well over half of meeting this target introduction. If they were to reduce their non-instructional line item by just ten percent through implementing best practices and looking for efficiencies, that would generate another $300 million in savings. We feel that this is a very defensible plan that doesn’t have to impact the classroom because we know that’s a critical area that we need to maintain in school-aid funding.”

Carey begs to differ.

“I don’t see how they can make that drastic of a cut and cannot impact the classroom,” said Carey. “Every time you cut education, you’re cutting resources. Whether it’s computers or books, whatever it is. Every time you make a cut, of course it’s going to impact the classroom.”

Carey said when school districts face financial obstacles, extracurricular activities, transportation and classes such as music or art are usually are on the chopping block.

Chapin said that ELPS does not expect program closures or extracurricular activity shutdowns. Sports, which are currently pay-for-play, will remain at the current rate of $175, which cover as many sports a student participate in during an entire school year.

On the contrary, Chapin said that although the proposed cuts attempt to better the state by balancing the budget, they could also have negative repercussions on the Michigan economy.

“I think that having a good K-12 school system is essential for a fertile business climate. Families don’t want to relocate to a state where there might be work, but there aren’t good schools to have children in and have them graduate from, and move on from high school graduation.”

Even more blatant a problem than that, is the unemployment that will result from the cuts said Chapin.

“Colleges and universities are educating and preparing teachers for the workforce, but we don’t have the jobs to support the training and the work that colleges and universities are doing. Those teachers are moving to other states and I think that’s detrimental to our employment and work climate, too.”

According to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, East Lansing had 3.7 percent unemployment. But this number could increase considering more than 43 percent of East Lansing’s work force, ages 16 and up, are employed in the industry the ACS describes as educational services, health care and social assistance.

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About tonybriscoe

Tony Briscoe is currently a senior journalism major at Michigan State University. In the past he has written for The Detroit News, B.L.A.C. Magazine Detroit and the Bleacher Report. Currently, he is a featured boxing columnist for the Bleacher Report and a staff writer for Entirely East Lansing. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/T_Briscoe
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