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


  1. Thank you for speaking out frankly and clearly. For illustrating how these insidious cuts can 'bleed' a district, little by little, to arrive at anemic staff moral and weaker programming. For calling your peers to action to defend their districts.
    If any sector deserves increased funds, renewed investment, economic encouragement, it's the one that produces our 'human capital'. Without which, all other gains will only be temporary. Education is the business that renews our workforce. That stimulates innovation and creativity. That produces enlightened future leaders. And guarantees our future quality of life.
    What type of legacy is that which restricts its own human potential? Already many live with overcrowded classrooms, no help for the difficult or troubled child, lack of interventionists, crumbling infrastructure, and demoralized staff. Cut more?
    I applaud your call to Superintendents to educate our State on the state of our schools. And I believe you will see your teachers right behind you, wishing you well and raising their own voices. Until the parents also join in and demand what their children deserve-- the first consideration of our legislators and Governor. To be treated like the treasure they are.

  2. As a teacher in a Macomb County school district who has for two years received Superior Performance evaluations I can understand your point, however I am a third year teacher currently making 9.5% less than what the salary schedule is for year 3 which places me several thousands of dollars below a livable wage. Your 1/2% sounds pretty great to me!

    I agree with what you are saying though... We are all in trouble.

  3. Thank you for speaking out! We need more leaders like you that are transparent in their actions and voice their opinions so ALL can see. How can education attract and keep the BEST teachers if we continue down this road. You are very likable for these attributes! Keep being a model others can follow. ALL districts have felt the effects of the cuts from Lansing, we need to share a united voice for our students!

  4. As a teacher with a Masters in Instructional Design, Masters in School Leadership, and Juris Doctor, I have remained in the classroom because I love teaching my students. I work in a nearby school district and wish I had administrators who were willing to share the truth. The quality of the education we provide students will be damaged for some time because we will no longer attract talented young minds to the teaching profession. Every superintendent needs to begin to push back and be willing to risk their salary to educate our leaders in Lansing.

  5. I am nearing my 30th year of teaching, have degrees that enable me to teach all science subjects in grades 6-12, learning disabilities k-12, and be an administrator. I was the teacher of the year in a very large district in your area, and I am near the top of my game. However, I feel threatened each day by our legislature's poor decision-making. Much of what has come from the state and federal government lawmaking in the past decade has not been for the good of our students or our schools, but simply involves more and more demands on schools with less and less funding. The laws are also often transparent in their aim to break the traditional public schools and to fill the pockets of those who charter other schools without much government oversight. Truly not a level playing field, as seen in the recent expose in the Free Press.

    It is my firm belief that things will not get better until we all work together to fight back against a group that has worked hard to become our nemesis, so thank you for your efforts to shed light on the situation and to rally the troops. In the interim, I am looking seriously into my next career, as are many of my most talented colleagues. My colleagues and I are also discontinuing our practice of training the next generation of teachers, in the hope that drying up the ready supply of teachers will also put pressure on both the universities and the legislature to get serious about improving conditions in our schools.

    Perhaps some good will come from the recently approved study of what it actually costs to educate a student in our schools. I know what it costs at Cranbrook, Country Day, Hillel, Eton, CC, and other private schools, and it is roughly more than triple what you have listed for Novi. Public schools are doing a great job for the money we spend, but we are nearing the end of our rope after years of cuts. Thank you for giving us some hope that LOUD CALLS FOR CHANGE may start to come from the what has seemed to be the quiet realm at the top of our schools. I hope that your school board will also become active participants in the call for change, instead of spending all of their time determining how to best make the next round of cuts like so many other local school boards. Again, thank you.

  6. Dr. Matthews thank you, on behalf of educators, Ed staff and most importantly the public school children in the State of Michigan.

  7. The financial contraction districts like Novi feel is most commonly plagued by legacy costs in the form of the MPSERS UAAL (unfunded liability).

    Despite strong growth in the School Aid Fund, the MPSERS UAAL is $31 billion underfunded. Amazingly before the reforms of 2012, that figure was $46 billion. That legacy debt is what is draining both state and local level budgets.

    In Novi, according to state reports, the 2013 average teacher salary was $72,223 - 31st highest in the state, despite Novi being 112th ranked in revenue per pupil ($10,454). With a 25% local MPSERS cost on that $72,223, plus healthcare - Novi's total compensation package for teachers is probably about $100,000 per year. That adds up.

    In Gov. Snyder's proposed budget, the state picks up the equivalent of $171 per pupil in MPSERS UAAL in 2016. That's over $1 million in costs Novi doesn't take on. I don't know the figures for the past couple years for Novi, but they are also big numbers.

    This is all cold comfort, but people do need to understand what a huge problem the MPSER UAAL poses. The "they" you refer to that is "coming for you" are those legacy costs.


  8. Besides blogging, what do you intend to do as a superintendent about this? Or is blog posting the whole of your strategy? Districts like Novi have the ability and the obligation to lead, to stand up publicly and be heard. Or it can do the modern version of complaining in the teacher workroom, blog about it to a handful of people who also won't do much to change things. Are you willing to risk your job to stand up publicly (your attempt to make a lateral move to another district a few months ago comes to mind)? Your teachers make sacrifices every day for the betterment of their students, far beyond the pay they don't receive. Are you willing to stand up and demand change...or is it more important to be likeable? You could make a good leader, but it requires you to stand up, speak up, and get others to join you. I'd love to see you do it. And I'd support you.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Truth is liberating and it is time that we pull our heads out of the sand, band together, stand our ground and free ourselves.

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