Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When they're done with me, they're coming for you!

To my fellow Michigan Superintendents,

Most of you don't like me.

Not "me" as a person. I have been told I am quite like able.

You don't like the "Novi Superintendent" me. I represent a district that has many advantages. We have a sinking fund, a recreation millage, and a recently passed capital projects bond. We have a community that is adding housing stock so our enrollment is expected to grow.

But more importantly what you don't like is that my district receives $8,630 per student. Technically for the 2014-2015 school year I received $8,409. But we earned a performance funding bonus from the state because of our student test scores. That equaled $70 per pupil last year. Then we earned the best practice bonus from the state of $50 per pupil last year for meeting the state identified school district best practices. We also received 20f Hold Harmless funds of $16 per student.

All of us received a retirement offset from the state. In Novi, it amounted to $83 per student.

So you add it all up and there it is $8,630 per student:

Per pupil foundation  $       8,409.00
Performance funding  $            70.00
Best practices  $            50.00
20f - Hold Harmless  $            18.00
MPSERS offset  $            83.00
 $        8,630.00

I know many, in fact most, of you receive far less.

So when I speak out against the Governor's 15-16 school budget you will probably not be too sympathetic.

After all, who cares if one of the "fat cats," one of the "rich" school districts receives less state aid. If the district you represent receives more at the expense of one of the "well-funded" districts, so be it.

I would urge you to reconsider.

The Governor says my district will receive a $75 per pupil increase next year.

My district - like yours - spends the money it receives. We are not hoarding it, we are not saving it, we are not being frivolous with our revenue.

As Exhibit A: I give you this example.

Our step one, first-year starting teacher's salary is $39,581. Teachers hired in our district at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, have never received that salary.

The first year in my district there was an off-schedule (meaning it would not carry over to the next year) salary cut of 1.3%. The salary was reduced from $39,581 to $39,052.

The next year, that first-year teacher's salary reverted to the written step one contractual amount but through negotiations everyone received a 1/2% on-schedule pay cut. So that teacher now in their second year received a salary less than the step one salary listed in the contract. The salary was $39,383 instead of $39,581. The second-year teacher again did not receive what our contract stated was the first-year teacher's salary.

Finally, this year - for the teacher hired in 2012-13 who was in her third year in the district - surely that teacher would receive what was supposed to be the starting salary from three years ago. Alas, no. The salary was frozen at the $39,383 level except for an off-schedule one-time payment.

So this teacher who entered the profession eager and ready to help our students has not received a salary increase in three years and has in fact received less than the contractual step one amount all three years.

This is not how you attract young talent to the profession.

We have a fund balance that hovers just over 10%.

We have kept it there by making cuts in salaries, as noted above. We have also frozen and cut secretary and aide hourly wages. Administrators have also been frozen and cut over the last three years.

We are trying to be responsible but it is coming on the backs of our employees.

Our K-4 class size average is approximately 22. We have four specials at the elementary level - music, physical education, art, and media center. We have an orchestra, band, and choir starting in 5th grade. We have AP and IB at our high school. We teach five foreign languages.

Our tennis team won the Division I state tennis title. Our volleyball team was the Division I runner-up. Our marching band was fifth in the state. Our middle school orchestra was invited to play at the Michigan Music Conference. Our robotics team qualified for the world championship. Our cross-country team was academic all state.

We have a comprehensive community school district.

Yet, next year while the Governor says he will boost per pupil funding by $75 per student he has also proposed to take away performance based funding ($70 per pupil in my district) and reduce best practice funding (a reduction of $30 per pupil in my district). The end result is that my district will receive $25 less per student or a total reduction of $161,000 dollars.

While, in jest, I suggested that most of you don't like me, the truth is that if the Governor cannot balance his budget by cutting schools like mine he will start to cut schools like yours.

Public schools that provide a comprehensive education for the students in communities all across Michigan are threatened by Governor Snyder's budget proposal. It is not just my school district.

It is up to Michigan superintendents to communicate to their communities, to the legislator, and to the Governor that public education should be a priority. The students in our school districts deserve much better than this proposal from Governor Snyder.

Very sincerely yours,

(The like able) Steve

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Look behind the headline

Governor Snyder presented his proposed budget today.

He suggests that each school district will receive a $75 dollar per student increase. He is correct. My district will receive an additional $480,000.

However, he forget to mention that he is also decreasing funding in certain funding buckets. Those funding buckets account for a net loss to my district of $100 per student or a decrease in revenue of $640,000.

As a result of this funding increase my district will receive $160,000 less next year.

So in Novi, Governor Snyder's budget will result in at least a $25 dollar per student loss next year.

How do I know? Look at the details of Governor Snyder's budget.

Item Program 2013-14 Appropriations 2014-15 Appropriations 2015-16 Appropriations
Sec. 22f Best Practices $80,000,000 $80,000,000 $30,000,000
Sec. 22j Pupil Performance $46,400,000 $46,400,000 $0

Section 22f - down $50 million dollars.

Section 22j - down $46.4 million dollars.

The 22f funding was allocated to districts if they met "best practices." In 22f funding Novi received $50 per student last year. Next year - the best we can hope for is $20 per student. A net decrease of $30 dollars per student or $192,000.

The 22j pupil performance funding was allocated to districts whose students performed at a certain level on state assessments. In 22j funding Novi received $70 per pupil last year. Next year we will receive ZERO dollars per pupil from 22j or a loss of $448,000.

Our total revenue loss is $640,000.

So while the Governor's headline is that education revenue will increase $75 per pupil, or $480,000 to Novi, he fails to mention that Novi will have a decrease in revenue of $100 per pupil or  $640,000.

Novi will receive $160,000 less next year under the Governor's budget.

It is important to look behind the headline!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Groundhog Day: It really is a nightmare

Today is Groundhog Day.

I'm starting to think I'm Bill Murray and living his 1993 movie - Groundhog Day. The teaser for the movie states that Phil (Murray's character) is trapped in a personal time warp, living his worst day over and over.

On January 8, 2015, I kept the schools in my community of Novi open. Students were not happy. Students took to Twitter to express their unhappiness. Some were quite unhappy.

Today - Groundhog Day - I find myself in the same position. 

Yesterday Novi received over 13 inches of snow. We closed school today - Groundhog Day. But tomorrow - well let's just say the students are expressing their hopes and fears on Twitter.

@: everyone pray for @docsmatthews to make the right decision and give us one more day off๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™

@: @docsmatthews it's colder than my heart and more barren than my soul and I think that points to another snow day

@: @docsmatthews Farmington, Livonia, Troy, International Academy, Walled Lake, and Rochester all closed..isn't this enough?

@: @docsmatthews you're on the clock #BelieveInSteve 

You have to love the passion of high school students!

Even though my high school students, and some of their parents, may not believe it, I really am concerned about their safety. I don't want them to be put at risk. I monitor the roads and weather. My Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations and I talk frequently about what we should do. We talk to the city of Novi's Department of Public Works.

Contrary to the opinion of our high school students - I really do care about their safety.

But I also happen to believe that being in school is important.

I know that our students could find information on the Internet. I know that one missed day of school - or in this case two missed days - would not be the end of the world.

But being in school makes a difference. I believe that the community of school provides context and texture for students that they cannot find in other places. 

I believe that the rhythm of school needs to be nurtured. Stopping and starting over and over again creates dissonance. The powerful symphony that can be created through the sharing of different voices within one space cannot be nurtured if we disrupt the rhythm of learning.

I believe that teachers help students every day. Trust is built between students and teachers when they are together. Teachers learn to see things, recognize moods, capitalize on learning opportunities. But those things cannot be developed without being together.

I know that it is possible to create a virtual community that can do some of these things. We are not yet there in Novi. 

Someday maybe, but not on this Groundhog Day.

So tonight at 9:00 PM, my Assistant Superintendent and several other area Superintendents will once again be on the phone having another conversation about what to do tomorrow.

Some will decide to close. Others will decide to stay open. 

All of us will make the best decision we can for the students and the parents in our community. 

And my Groundhog Day will continue.