Southeast Michigan school officials call for ‘stability’ in state funding

By Michigan Advance

May 17, 2024

BY KEN COLEMAN, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—A group of metro Detroit education leaders on Thursday said there’s an “urgent need for decisive action” from Lansing lawmakers to support a plan by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that would reduce school district state retirement systems contributions and use the savings to support students and teachers—and avert staffing and program cuts.

“We are aggressively advocating for support,” said Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency Superintendent Daveda Colbert, referring to state lawmakers.

Colbert pointed out that 1 in 5 local school districts in her county—the state largest in terms of population—will feel the impact of cuts.

The Democratic-controlled state House and Senate finished passing their first budget bills this week. Whitmer, a Democrat, will need to negotiate with legislative leaders on a final deal. The Fiscal Year 2025 budget goes into effect on Oct. 1.

Colbert was joined at the virtual news conference by Macomb Intermediate School District Superintendent Michael DeVault; St. Clair Regional Educational Service Agency Superintendent Brenda Tenniswood; and Oakland Schools Assistant Superintendent Ken Gutman.

As federal government’s financial support designed to address funding challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic ends, the group supports Whitmer’s call for payment relief. The Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (MPSERS) is the state’s pension system for teachers and other school workers.

“In Wayne County, I can tell you that the financial pressures are great and are being felt equally,” added Colbert about her service area that includes largely working-class cities like Detroit and wealthy suburban communities like the Grosse Pointes, Canton and Plymouth.

Whitmer’s budget plan would reduce state contributions to the shared retirement system, which would free up $670 million for school districts to avert teacher layoff and reduction in dollars used in the classroom.

“I think that every district is going to feel the impact in some way. … We need stability in a [state] system that has rarely ever had it,” Gutman said.

Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) general superintendent, wrote a letter earlier this month to members of the state Legislature also calling for the retirement system savings.

“This legislative action can profoundly improve DPSCD students’ educational experiences and outcomes, ensuring that our students, staff, and community receive more support and resources,” Vitti wrote. “This will also better support all Michigan school districts.”

With about 50,000 students DPSCD is the state’s largest K-12 public school district.

However, state House and Senate Republicans have described the Whitmer proposal as a “raid” on the teacher pension system, one that could jeopardize promises to retirees.

“They’re raiding the retirement funds of our hard-working school teachers,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) in a statement issued last week.

READ MORE: Michigan teacher salaries lag behind inflation, report says

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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