Michigan schools reap ‘best practices’ windfall

Nov 7, 2011 by

School districts across Metro Detroit are getting thousands and even millions of dollars back from the state this fall for enacting “best practices” included in Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2012 budget.

As of last week, 38 public districts and charter schools had been approved by the Michigan Department of Education for payments of $100 per student for adopting measures such as privatizing or consolidating services.

Statewide, 177 districts are approved for payments and began receiving installments Oct. 20. Districts have until June to apply for the funds.

The payments restore part of a $470 cut in per-pupil aid enacted in May to help balance the state’s budget. All told, the state plans to distribute $154 million in incentive funds.

Jan Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the payments for 2011-12 will be based 90 percent on the student count taken in districts Oct. 5 and the remainder on a count done in February. That formula also is used to calculate state foundation aid to public schools.

“It is our sincere hope that all districts adopt these best practices and qualify for this meaningful incentive designed to improve financial stability and resources,” Ellis said.

To receive the money, districts must meet at least four of five stipulations made by the state:

Charge employees at least 10 percent of health care premiums.

Become the insurance policy holder on medical benefit plans.

Produce a plan to consolidate services with cost savings.

Obtain competitive bids for noninstructional services.

Develop a dashboard that measures district effectiveness.

Amounts approved for Metro Detroit districts range from $26,500 for Commonwealth Community Development Academy, a Detroit charter school with 265 students, to $6.6 million for Detroit Public Schools, the state’s largest district with nearly 66,000 students.

School districts are using the funds to balance their budgets, roll back layoffs and, occasionally, add staff.

Dearborn Public Schools, for instance, is receiving $1.8 million, allowing the district to bring back 12 laid-off teachers and hire 30 others, said Adnan Moughni, principal of Henry Ford Elementary School.

Among them is Terra Fields, who is grateful the funding made it possible for her to get hired this fall as a kindergarten teacher at Henry Ford Elementary.

“This feels like a dream come true,” said Fields, 24, of Allen Park, who graduated from Michigan State University in May. “I think it’s great,” she said. “For so long, I was told I wouldn’t find a teaching job in Michigan, especially Downriver. Michigan is losing a lot of really good teachers to other states, and we need more new teachers.”

Officials with Dearborn and other school districts said they are pleased to get the funding but that it merely makes up for money the state cut from their budgets.

“This is not extra money because we’ve already taken an 8.1 percent pay cut and lost close to $20 million over the past two years,” said district spokesman David Mustonen. “They’re just bringing back a small portion of what was cut, although we are grateful. But people took huge pay cuts to keep their jobs.”

The Fraser Public School District will use its estimated $529,400 to maintain programs.

“It’s not like it’s this huge windfall,” Superintendent David Richard said. “It’s not earmarked for anything in particular because it’s going into our general operating budget, but I’m sure we’ll be paying salaries with it.”

Detroit Public Schools spokesman Steve Wasko said the $100 per pupil was included in the budget adopted in July.

“It’s already accounted for in the budget, and as such, assists DPS with addressing the primary goals of our academic plan aimed at ensuring equity of access to high quality instruction for all students, while maximizing financial resources,” Wasko said.

Some districts, including Southfield, Birmingham and West Bloomfield, are not on the initial list, but plan to apply.

“We’ll already be getting a $470 reduction, like all the other districts, so this is a way to lessen the impact,” said Birmingham Public Schools spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson. The district stands to receive about $829,800.

The West Bloomfield Public School District could receive $660,300.

“We’ll be applying for the money, but it must go before the board on Nov. 28,” said district spokeswoman Pam Zajac. “We’re applying for it because we’re trying to do what we can, since we’re right in the midst of a financial situation along with everyone else.”

via Schools | Michigan schools reap ‘best practices’ windfall | The Detroit News.

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