Snyder education budget cuts hit home, Holt

By Drew Dzwokowski
Holt Journal staff writer

When Gov. Rick Snyder released his budget plan for Michigan’s education system on Feb. 17, the first thing that went through Holt School District bus driver Ron Pardeau’s  head was, “We’re in trouble.”

Pardeau, a Holt bus driver for 13 years, knows that Snyder’s proposal will mean tough times for Holt. His sentiments were echoed throughout the education community.

“They’re cutting all our elective courses,” said Meredith Harper, a senior at Holt High School. “We had one more hour to fill every trimester, and now there’s nothing to fill it with. They cut photography, they cut art.”

Snyder’s proposed education budget diverts $895 million from K-12 schooling. This is an average of $470 cut per student; a 4 percent reduction. The cuts will make a projected $670 million surplus, which will then feed into a program intended to fix the $1.5 billion state deficit.

The plan has caused an uproar among students, teachers and workers in the Holt education system.

“There’s quite a few drivers where this is their livelihood,” said Pardeau. “I’m already getting a pension, but ones that rely on this, it hurts them.” Pardeau took up work as a bus driver after retiring from the Air Force. Snyder’s plan would eliminate some state jobs, and public school districts may have to cut workers such as bus drivers to tighten the belt.

Holt High Senior Colleen Lierman prepares for a pitch against rival team St. John. If Snyder's cuts are put into action, athletic programs may be the first to go. Photo credt: Drew Dzwonkowski

“I’m on cross country and we get busses to meets but not back from meets anymore,” said Karina Drachman, a senior attending Holt High School. “And we don’t get buses on weekends anymore.”

Snyder said he would take a 2011 salary of $1 as part of a “shared sacrifice.” The budget would eliminate before and after-school programs.  Due to a $650 million surplus in this year’s State Aid Fund, districts were expecting to get more money for the 2011-2012 academic calendar. The State Aid Fund is separate from Michigan’s general fund, and has its own revenue stream. Snyder’s proposals will put an end to that thinking.

All Michigan property owners pay a 6-mill school tax which feeds into the State Aid Fund. It is also fed by a third of the state sales tax revenues from various other minor taxes. Whether it is constitutional to use the School Aid to cut into the state’s general deficit is controversial.

The cuts drastically affect high school seniors as they make the transition to universities. Drachman was shocked to discover Snyder’s proposed 15 percent increase on living fees for college housing. She is attending Michigan State University in the fall.

“I hear they’re raising my living fee $1,000?” said Drachman. “We’re all having problems with money, everyone here is.”

Holt may be better protected from the cuts than surrounding areas, and that may be due to the diligent efforts of education officials. Pardeau spoke of Kim Cosgrove, Holt’s Executive Finance Director, and her ability to keep Holt above water.

“We could be without jobs if she wasn’t the way she is,”said Pardeau. “If it wasn’t for her seeing things coming down the road, we’d probably be in a lot worse situation, like the other schools. If she could squeeze a penny out of one of those light bulbs, she’d do it.”

Holt teachers have to deal directly with the budget cuts. The lack of funding has led to various consequences that close involvement with students has brought to light.

“These kids don’t even have the money for calculators now,” said Kelly Kitchen, a math teacher at Holt Junior High School. “In Holt today, there’s a hundred kids that are legally, by statute, homeless in our district. They don’t have a home.”

Kitchen stressed that raising awareness for these issues should start when kids are young. As the budget affects them the most, it is important they know exactly what they are being dealt.

“I don’t know how much the kids pay attention to what’s happening,” said Kitchen. “Every child needs to think about the bigger issues. But we do our job every day.”

Kitchen is actively involved with issues in the state of Michigan. She has been quoted on National Public Radio and attends many rallies at the Lansing State Capitol.

“Just listen for the cowbell,” Kitchen said, which she brings to every rally.

She made clear that the problem does not lie with Holt, but with the big city down the road.

“I’m not disappointed in the way our school board has handled it,” she said. “I’m disappointed with how Congress has handled it.”

Snyder wants lawmakers to approve the budget by May 31.

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