The list of Michigan school districts that have budget deficits is shrinking, and the list of districts that are getting in the black is growing. That according to the state Department of Education. There are 46 districts on the deficit list today, compared to 50 at the end of last year.
And that was good news to state Senator Howard Walker (R-Traverse City), who chairs the Senate K-through-12 budget subcommittee.
"I'm encouraged that we're trending in the right direction as far as the number of schools heading into deficit and the number of schools heading out of deficit," he said following a hearing on the report.
Walker says he wants to take a harder look at the data, but he thinks it shows that some of the tough decisions forced on school districts by the state are showing results.
But the news isn't all good, says Mike Flanagan. He is the state schools superintendent. He says too many school districts are not making enough tough calls as fiscal disaster looms -- things like closing buildings as enrollments drop.
For example, he says, no school district has taken up the state's offer of money to help consolidate. "You know, that's a bad sign because there's room for consolidation," he said. "It has to be thoughtful."
Last year, two districts were forced to consolidate with their neighbors after they ran out of money in the middle of the school year. Flanagan says one answer might be to give local superintendents the authority to make difficult budget choices when elected school boards won't.
Flanagan also said the next state budget should include money for teams that will move in early when school districts show early signals of fiscal stress. He says tough choices made early can help avert dire decisions later.
On the same day, a collection of school districts and administrative organizations rolled out a K-through-12 plan that they say would put more money into classrooms. They want the state to eliminate several "categorical" areas of education spending and fold that into the foundation grant to school districts. They say it makes more sense for school districts to decide which of their most-critical needs need a funding bump than Lansing.