Tri-county superintendents call on lawmakers to take action on school funding

With the first day of school now just weeks away, concern is growing among school leaders in Michigan. 

Superintendents from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties held a "State of Michigan Schools" roundtable Friday morning for a frank discussion not just about safety, but also about funding. Superintendents across the state are now demanding that lawmakers take action.

"God knows I hope this doesn't run through the whole year but it could," said Michael Devault, the superintendent for Macomb Intermediate School District.

"Our districts are being forced to move forward with little to no guidance and certainly no funding certainty coming from Lansing," said Robert McCann, the executive director of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education. He's calling on lawmakers to approve an education budget.

"We have a $1.1 billion deficit in the fiscal year of 20-21 budget but we also have a billion dollars in new costs," he said.

The new costs are associated with everything from PPE to Chromebooks - and with no funding.

"They need that information so they can plan. How many teachers can they hire? What can they do in regards to programs for kids, as they're also doing the required cleaning, etc. that they have to plan for," said Dr. Randy Liepa, the Wayne RESA superintendent.

"Being able to operate in an extreme crisis without any understanding of what your revenue is going to be is extremely challenging," said Dr. Robert Shaner, the Rochester Community Schools superintendent. He said the district has $5.5 million in added costs due to COVID-19.

"In our district, just in custodial costs at this point, we've spent in excess of $900,000 and continuing to climb," he said. And that's without in-person learning. Imagine what it would be if the kids came back to class.

"We are also in desperate need of support from Lansing and Washington, D.C.," he said.

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But with Congress unable to come up with another stimulus package, the Tri-County Alliance is calling on the state to transfer money from the general fund to the school aid fund immediately.

"Our legislators have a constitutional responsibility to provide schools with funding certainty and they failed to do that at this point," said McCann.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey tells FOX 2 the legislature is and has been working with the governor to arrive at a consensus on funding for the school year. When asked for a timeline she said as soon as possible - but school leaders say that's not soon enough.