Tag Archives: school budgets

2010-11 GPPSS School Year Budget Approved

The 2010-11 Grosse Pointe Public School System budget approved last night consumed hour upon hour of work and analysis to enable us to continue to deliver the high quality programs we have come to expect.  While intensely difficult and painful at times, this budget and other financial achievements in 2009-10 will pay dividends for years to come.

Last night the Board of Education approved by a 5-2 margin the 2010-11 budget.  Having participated in or observed GPPSS budget developments for the last six years, I can say with certainty that this budget cycle was by far the most difficult – arguably in the history of the district.  Never before has the district had to cope with such mid-year cuts as we experienced in 2009-10 (an issue that needed to be permanently addressed in the 2010-11 budget) and never has the district needed to bridge a projected shortfall of over $7,000,000.

Such a difficult exercise required that we approach the budget like we have never done before.  We started in earnest nearly a year ago, in August, when we had a sense of the enormity of the challenge.  The data gathering and analysis started earlier and in greater detail than had ever been done before.  We utilized the zero-based budgeting model, which forced us to evaluate every investment we made. 

We published the initial draft of a complete budget in February, allowing residents and other stakeholders the earliest view it had ever had for an ensuing year’s budget.  The feedback we received, amidst a flurry of ever-changing variables, drove five complete revisions of the budget, published and discussed every month from February through June.

The 2010-11 Approved Budget Overview provides a healthy summary of what was approved last night.  The format of these overviews was also a new development for this year in an effort to translate the budget numbers into information meaningful to our residents – such as class size projections and program offerings.  It also cataloged the changes in the five iterations of the budget, reflecting the feedback we received throughout.

In order to put the 2010-11 budget into context, last night I also presented the next installment in the series I developed last summer the GPPSS Financial Transparency Series_2009-10 Year in Review.  It summarizes our financial accomplishments for the 2009-10 budget year and places into historical context the key financial metrics of the 2010-11 budget, such as enrollment, staffing levels, and tax revenues.  Here are some of the highlights from 2009-10:

  • Published the multi-part Financial Transparency Series (PowerPoint narrated videos).
  • Successfully integrated Budget Modeling Utility, Staff Utilization Utility, Financial Benchmark and Health Care reports for financial analysis, budget planning, transparency, and contract resolution.
  • Voters renewed Hold Harmless and Sinking Fund millages by wide margins.
  • Closed a $3MM mid-year structural revenue gap from Foundation Allowance and 20J reduction. Project only a $1.2MM reliance on Fund Equity against budgeted $2.6MM.
  • Completed the most transparent budget development process in history of the district.
  • Approved a district-wide no fee All Day Kindergarten program, an offering that is already proving to boost enrollment.
  • 2010-11 budget reduces taxes/fees by $785,000 for local taxpayers via all day kindergarten fee elimination and lower foundation allowance revenues.
  • 2010-11 final budget and contract settlement avoided projected layoffs that would have incurred a wasteful $700,000 in unemployment costs.
  • GPPSS has avoided school closings and other highly undesirable responses to budget challenges –unlike many well-respected districts across the state.
  • Reached agreement with teachers and administrators on 4 year contracts that substantially mitigates risk of unpredictable enrollment, per pupil revenue, salary, retirement and health care costs.

Between the budget accomplishments of 2009-10, the budget of 2010-11 and the contract settlements, the 2011-12 school year budget is already practically completed.  While never particularly enjoyable over the course of this year, what we accomplished financially in 2009-10 will deliver educational and financial benefits for years to come.


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Filed under Current Events, GPPS Budget Decisions, GPPS Finances

The Elementary Class Size Conundrum

The combination of schedule inflexibility, high enrollment variability, and stressful economic times renders  elementary class size decisions a frustrating exercise for all parties.  Reasonable and rationale standards, consistently enforced, present the best means of navigating these rough waters.

I’ve written about class size before and as a primer I’d recommend interested parties read this blog entry again.  My summary view is that the quantifiable benefits of (economically reasonable) class sizes is questionable.  Nevertheless, smaller class sizes are preferred by all stakeholders. 

The class size challenge will vary from district to district.  A universal truth about class size is that the more flexibility available, the lesser the challenge.  Flexibility is enhanced by scheduling options combined with a higher concentration of students per building. 

Flexibility scales with both and has a smoothing impact on class size – eliminating over-reliance on extreme highs and lows.  This is one of the factors that encourages districts to close schools.  It increases student concentration allowing for the reduction of teaching staff by enhancing flexibility. 

When reading the frequent articles on school closings you will see that the grade levels are often reconfigured as well.  This further increases student density by grade and geography.

Our high school schedule of 7 period days at only two high schools is more flexible than three middle schools in a 6 period day schedule, and far more flexible than 9 geographically bound elementary schools with block schedules.

The focus here is elementary school.  In Grosse Pointe Public Schools, one of our greatest assets is the neighborhood school with no busing required and essentially closed enrollment.  (Parents can’t just send students wherever they want.)  Elementary classes are characterized by grades and sections.  Class size is a function of the number of sections per grade at each school.

Even small variations of student gain or loss can trigger significant shifts in staff, and therefore section, allocations.

Grade level enrollment in relation to section counts reaches different tipping points that can trigger a need for a new sections or the prospective loss of a section based on the gain or loss of just a few students. 

The table below looks at prospective class size per grade level at an individual school based on having 2, 3, 4, or 5 sections.  Each section would require a full time teacher. (Two sections requires two teachers and so on.)

Table 1: Class Size Projections Based on Various Levels of Enrollment per School for Varying Different Sections

Students Per Grade at a Single School 2 3 4 5
50 25.0 16.7 12.5 10.0
55 27.5 18.3 13.8 11.0
60 30.0 20.0 15.0 12.0
65 32.5 21.7 16.3 13.0
70 35.0 23.3 17.5 14.0
75 37.5 25.0 18.8 15.0
80 40.0 26.7 20.0 16.0
85 42.5 28.3 21.3 17.0
90 45.0 30.0 22.5 18.0
95 47.5 31.7 23.8 19.0
100 50.0 33.3 25.0 20.0


The projections at the extremes of the scale are not very realistic.  For example, we would not run 5 sections of 10 students per class nor two sections of 50 students per class.  But as you wade toward the center, you can how the decisions can get more difficult. 

For example, in a grade with 75 students, is three sections of 25 too high?  Is 4 sections of 18-20 students affordable across the district?  Remember, what is afforded to one school would be desired/expected by 8 others. Also remember that the table above examines increments of 5 students.  This is abnormal and the gray areas in between make the “cut off line” decisions even more difficult. 

So let’s look at some real world examples from our current school year.

Table 2: Largest GPPSS Elementary Class Sizes Currently: 2009-10 School Years

School Grade Class Size
Trombly K 26.0
Monteith 2nd 26.0
Monteith 3rd 25.3
Monteith 4th 26.3
Kerby 5th 25.0
Maire 3rd 25.5


Note that Trombly had only 1 kindergarten section.  Running two of 13 students was not affordable last year (nor would it be for most districts in any year.)

In 2009-10 we had a total of 68 student sections in grades K through 5.  These 6 sections therefore represented less than 9% of all sections in the district.  The average class size in 2009-10 in grades 1 through 5 was 21.5 students.  The point being, these higher sections were the exceptions rather than the norm.  Some people wrongly assume that what is happening in one grade level at one school is what’s happening everywhere.  This is not the case.

Now let’s look at the preliminary class size projections of the highest class sizes in elementary for 2010-11.  Note that the table also projects what the class size would be if we were to add a section to the grade level.

Table 3: Analysis of Class Size Projections and Options for 2010-11 School Year

School Grade Current Projected 2010-11 Class Size Class Size with Another Teacher Teachers Required
Ferry 4th 29.5 19.7 1
Ferry 5th 29.0 19.3 1
Defer 3rd 27.0 18.0 1
Monteith 2nd 26.7 20.0 1
Ferry 2nd 26.5 17.7 1
Poupard 2nd 26.5 17.7 1
Monteith 5th 26.3 21.0 1
Defer 1st 26.0 17.3 1
Monteith 3rd 25.8 20.6 1
Defer 2nd 25.5 17.0 1
Maire 4th 25.5 17.0 1
Monteith 4th 25.5 20.4 1
      Total 12


This is a constructive manner of analyzing the challenge.  Viewed through the lens of what is both desirable AND affordable, most reasonable people would identify with the challenge this presents. 

No decision has a greater impact on district finances than class size.  Class size standards decisions need to balance quantifiable benefit, intangible benefit, and hard costs. 

Next year our average total teacher compensation would have been about  $119,000.  The recent retirement incentive and new teacher contract will reduce this amount substantially.  But to keep the math simple, let’s just call it $100,000 per teacher.

To add a section at all of these grade levels it would incur approximately $1,200,000 of new expense to the district.  Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that, like all school districts in the state, we’ve had to overcome reductions in revenue and other traditional cost escalations to bridge a $7,300,000 projected shortfall for the 2010-11 school year.

But let’s say, for sake of argument, that we DID have the wherewithal to add all twelve of the sections/teachers.  How might this decision be evaluated against the prospect of such other options as returning the middle school schedule to its previous 7 period day?  With some moderation in class size averages there, the staffing requirements are not that different.

Or how about the option to staff the high school schedule to an extent that would allow us to give more credit opportunities to students who today average 1 semester per year taking only 6 classes?  As the state graduation requirements ramp up more double blocking and like programs may be necessary.  We’d need more staff to accommodate that.

Perhaps we want to create new course offerings and create new capacity, not draw down enrollment in other classes, to enable that.  Most of these scenarios would require fewer than 12 teachers. 

These are heavy issues – and the prospect of even considering which path to take is not a place where we were before the new contracts and before the early retirement incentive and frankly not a place where most other districts are today.  Many, if not most, won’t be there anytime soon either.

Consider that we are debating whether we may have a half dozen class sections averaging 26 or 20 students while other districts debated this year which schools to close.  We need to keep things in perspective.

For our budget development this year, the standard measure recommended by the administration on class sizes have been that they were not to exceed 30 students per class in grades 4 and 5 and not to exceed 27 in grades 1 through 3.  The current projections has 100% of projected sections within those standards. 

The vast majority of our sections are well below those levels with an average class size of 22.1.  In all it is not accurate to say that we have a class size problem across the district.  We have isolated instances of higher class sizes that require careful consideration of alternatives.  That is where we are right now. 

Enrollment can fluctuate substantially over the summer – per school, per grade, both up and down.  This is particularly true now as Michigan residents often leave the area with little warning.  In all we project the majority of our enrollment reductions to come from the elementary level.  (Some silver lining: Our new policy on no fee All Day Kindergarten is already showing signs of counteracting some of these losses.)

Class size standards need to be clearly defined, realistic, and consistently enforced.

The smartest path to take is to establish and adhere to an absolute standard for class size.  The basis for the adoption of the standard should be fair, realistic, and consistently enforced. 

The Board may choose now, based on new developments, that the maximum of 30 students in grades 4-5  and 27 in grades 1 through 3  is too high.  But when looking to ratchet that number down, we need to measure the implication.  For example:

  • An adjustment down in grades 4 and 5 to the same 27 as grades 1 through 3 would require, at current projections, just 2 more teachers.
  • An adjustment down in grades 1 through 3 by just 1 student per class (from a maximum of 27 to 26 students) would require at least 5 more teachers or roughly $500,000.
  • Enrollment fluctuations after budget adoption may require us to add staff in places we least anticipated.

We have a very dynamic set of variables that influence all of our budget and staffing decisions.  This past week has brought many new developments.  What I expect to happen is for the administration to comb through enrollment projections yet again and evaluate class size maximums based on recent development. 

A revised budget should be presented to the Board for our consideration and a decision should be reached using a fair, equitable, and realistic standard that we are prepared to adhere to given inevitable variability over the summer.

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Filed under Current Events, GPPS Board of Education, GPPS Budget Decisions, GPPS Finances

The University of Michigan Standard and the GPPSS

The Grosse Pointe Public School System serves a diverse range of students, but clearly most have a four year college degree as a goal.  The standards of the University of Michigan may provide a valuable guidepost as we build and maintain academic, extra-curricular, and marketing programs.

U of M Logo This spring I have attended various school system events that reminded me of a concept I have been contemplating for some time and introduce here in this blog.

The first event was the annual Grosse Pointe North / Grosse Pointe South Athletic Boosters golf outing fund raiser.  The second was the district-wide 5th grade and middle school band and orchestra performance.  Both were reminders of the outstanding extra-curricular offerings we make available to our students and the opportunities they in turn create for our students.

Let’s start with the full disclosure:  I am indeed one of those proud University of Michigan graduates.

I remember vividly beginning my research on where I wanted to go to college in the summer following my freshman year at Grosse Pointe South.  One college guide said something along these lines about the University of Michigan:

If you live in the state of Michigan and you can get accepted to the University of Michigan, go.  It’s the best deal in the country.

I took those words to heart, worked hard, applied to only one school, got accepted to and graduated from Michigan – with no regrets.

There are plenty of great schools, but to my admittedly biased view, Michigan is the gold standard for most students in the state of Michigan.

Why Michigan and not, say, the Ivy League schools?  Even a Michigan man tips his hat to a Harvard or Yale.  But those schools are elite based in part on their exclusivity.  Michigan is exclusive as well, but not nearly to the extent the Ivies are.  Let’s compare the acceptance rate of Michigan to the Ivy League schools.

School Acceptance Rate Students who were in the Top 10% of their High School Class # of Students Enrolled in Class of ’13
Michigan 50% 92% 6,079
Brown 11% 93% 1,353
Columbia 11% 93% 1,857
Cornell 21% 88% 3,221
Dartmouth 13% 90% 1,094
Harvard 8% 95% 1,665
Penn 17% 99% 2,477
Princeton 10% 97% 1,301
Yale 9% 97% 1,320

Let’s remember that typically the best of the best apply to the Ivy’s.  Their high standard possibly deters many applicants.  All that not witshstanding, based on the acceptance rate comparison alone, the odds of a student getting accepted to Michigan versus an Ivy League school are many time greater.  But even the acceptance rate does not tell the whole story.

Other statistics make the data more compelling- such as the percentage of students accepted from the state of Michigan.  As a state funded institutions, Michigan is required to accept a large proportion of state residents.   3,921 out of 6,079 students in Michigan’s class of 2013 hail from Michigan.  Compare that to Penn, where only 26 of their 2,477 students are Michiganders.  While I don’t know for a fact, I suspect the Ivies make efforts to attract students from as broad a geographic range as possible.  The point is, as a Michigan resident, your odds of being accepted to Michigan are greater than non-Michigan residents.

Affordability is another factor.  Just comparing Michigan to Cornell, Grosse Pointe Schools graduates (as Michigan residents) would pay about half of what Cornell students – roughly $25,000 versus about $50,000 factoring tuition, fees, and room and board.  Sure, $25,000 is not inexpensive, but doubling that cost further raises the Ivy League bar.

Acceptance to Michigan would be an outstanding goal for most of our students and a potential guiding objective for the district.

We want students to shoot for the Ivy League, but we need to be realistic about the odds of a large percentage reaching that goal.  Frankly we want every student to take aim on whatever goal each desires.  But would using the Michigan standard, would we not be aligning the trajectory of those many goals in the best possible manner?  Could one of our goals be to optimize the opportunity for as many GPPSS students as possible to gain acceptance to Michigan?

I touched on this concept in a blog entry I wrote back in August.   As a district if we want to commit to help each and every student reach their goal, each needs their own plan.  Since the majority of our students have 4 year degrees as goals, using the Michigan standard makes sense.  It is an aggressive, but realistic goal.

In my time on the Board I have referenced the “Good the Great” model and the “hedgehog principle” whereby great organizations leverage a defining concept that “unifies, guides, and organizes all decisions.”  What does the GPPSS want to be the best at?  What over-arching concept can help us become a truly great organization for years to come?

Positioning each and every student to achieve their individual objective is a logical candidate – and for many, if not most, acceptance to a great university is a logical goal.  This is something we can brand and promote around.  This makes for a  compelling value proposition.

Outstanding academic credentials are a given, but Michigan clearly values students who distinguish themselves in performing arts, athletics, community service and other extra-curricular activities.

The events I attended this week reminded me of this press release from the University of Michigan regarding their incoming class of 2013.  It really got me thinking about investment and service priorities.  Consider the following characteristics of this year’s University of Michigan freshman class:

  • 43 percent were elected to one or more student government offices
  • More than one-third received all-city, all-league, all-county, or all-state awards in athletics
  • More than half volunteered in hospitals, clinics, or home health care programs
  • 10 percent established a business while still in high school
  • 35 percent published poems, stories, essays and articles, or served as editors of their high school newspaper or yearbook
  • 65 percent play a musical instrument

I won’t dwell on the academic characteristics of a Michigan freshman because it is generally known and accepted that these students excel academically by anyone’s standards.  But this data, free and clear from GPA and standardized test score references, is very informative.  Clearly the most elite public university in the state values a well-rounded student – one who goes above and beyond the normal in academic, athletic, arts, and community service.

From a budget perspective it tells me we too must continue to create opportunities for students in these areas – and more than that, do everything we can to encourage their participation in these areas.  People will often ask me, how can we continue to invest in athletics or performing arts as the budgets tighten?  Behold the Michigan standard for your answer.  We simply have to find ways to deliver on all fronts.  When I see the time and energy invested by the athletic and performing arts communities, it further underscores the importance of these extra-curricular activties.

Not every student who is or could be accepted into Michigan will want to go, but the Michigan standard still serves as a logical baseline

Of course this concept needs some polishing, but there is something to it.

Michigan won’t be the best fit for many students.  Some will indeed be Ivy League material.  Some will want a smaller school.  For some students even graduating from high school can be a challenge let alone gaining acceptance to an elite university.  We must remain cognizant to the needs and goals of all. That is our obligation.

The point is not to railroad students to go to Michigan, but rather use the Michigan high standard as a baseline for programming, investment, services, and expectations.  As the idea evolves, data points and characteristics from other outstanding colleges and universities must be factored.

We must be doing everything we can to enhance the experience our families will have in planning and evaluating college options for our students.  With the collective experience of sending so many students to outstanding universities all across the country, the GPPSS stands positioned to help our families in ways they could never conceive.  For example, most families may go through the college planning and application process just once, or maybe two or three times more.  Collectively, the GPPSS has sent students to college thousands of times over.  Leveraging that experience into a value added service offering should entice more families to want to attend our schools.  Certainly we do this today, but should it not be our goal to be the best at it?

My maize and blue colors are showing, I know.  But the University of Michigan’s reputation is undeniably outstanding.  The high Michigan standard sets a high standard for our students and helps guide our investment decisions.  This concept could help us make the right decisions for the right reasons in a way that adds value to everyone involved.


Filed under GPPS Academics

Proposal A Giveth and Taketh Away

The landmark tax and school finance legislation approved by taxpayers in 1994 has been much maligned as of late, but there were less complaints when the state economy was healthy.  A review of the staffing, tax and compensation trends of the Proposal A era may help us make sense of the current challenges.

A Grosse Pointe South teacher’s quote in the paper may sum up the general feeling among his peers:

“The governor, the Republican Party and even school boards have made teachers their whipping boy.  I just don’t enjoy coming to work any more and looking toward that kind of a future.  It seems too many people care more about the cost than the quality of education.”

Was this said a couple weeks ago along the picket lines formed by current members of the GPEA?  Not quite.

It was said 16 years ago by my calculus teacher, the brilliant Frank Ford.  It is sad to think that Mr. Ford felt this way as his career came to a close just as it is sad to think this may be well how most our teachers feel now.  But was Mr. Ford’s dour outlook of the future merited?  Let’s take a look at what has transpired since then.

Using state of Michigan Bulletin 1014 data, GPPSS’ own data, and inflation calculators I compiled the following statistics comparing the GPPSS of 1993 to 2009, a tidy bookend view of the Proposal A era.

Here’s some things that catch my attention:

  • Enrollment is higher now than 16 years ago. Not by much, but higher nonetheless. Despite that, our elementary class sizes are smaller.  This is good data to reflect upon under the shadow of the growing trend to close schools.
  • Our per pupil revenue was 14th highest in the state and 16 years later we rank 49th – evidence of Prop A’s design to smooth per pupil funding differences among school districts.
  • Our average teacher salary in 1993 much more closely aligned with our revenue ranking – 12th in average salary to our 14th ranking in revenue.  Despite our drop to 49th in revenue per pupil, we now rank 1st in average teacher salary.
  • Our administrative costs per pupil ranking has dropped precipitously, down from 56th to 387th in the state.  So not all employee categories have enjoyed the same benefits as others. 
  • Despite being ranked #1 in average teacher salary, in inflation adjusted dollars, our average teachers salaries are 0.9% less than in 1993.  But…
  • In the same inflation adjusted dollars, teacher benefit costs (namely retirement and health care) have exploded by a staggering 76% and 28% respectively.  Prop A shifted the retirement burden to local school districts, a benefit employees enjoy but that comes at a price not always recognized for what it is – a very expensive compensation vehicle.
  • Teacher total compensation in inflation adjusted dollars has increased by 7.6%.
  • Factoring a more favorable student to teacher ratio, the GPPSS total inflation adjusted teacher compensation costs increased by 18.4%, outpacing the inflation adjusted 14.8% increase in General Fund budget.  This also means that other expenditures have dropped substantially to support this imbalance.
  • Teacher and Teacher Assistant staffing increased by 14.5%, a 3.5 multiple of our 4.1% increase in student enrollment.
  • Meanwhile all other employee staff levels decreased by 32.5% with secretaries, custodial/cafeteria, and other non-instructional staff taking the biggest hits.  Amazingly, the total number of employees is essentially identical to 16 years ago (with more students), but the distribution shifted more in the favor of direct instructional employees.
  • Local property tax millage revenues in inflation adjusted dollars have decreased 71%.  This was one of the primary objectives of Proposal A.

Like a gentle breeze at our backs for most of its existence, Proposal A has delivered substantial benefits to most parties – but now the breeze has shifted.

The data shows that no teachers in Michigan have fared better than Grosse Pointe teachers in the Proposal A era in regards to salaries, which in our case have basically kept pace with inflation. 

With no associated compensation reduction to offset the massive increases in other benefits, the compensation package is clearly more rich. In 1993 as now, teachers make no contribution to their health care premiums, despite its substantial cost increase.  By state law teachers do contribute more to their retirement, but this has done little to soften its 76% cost increase to the district.  Throw in more favorable student:teacher ratio and the working conditions, like compensation, have also improved in the Proposal A era.

From 1993 to 2009 no employee category added more jobs to their ranks than teachers.  In the same period of time staffing levels of many other employee categories were reduced dramatically.  Secretaries and plant/cafeteria staff are down 38% and 30% respectively from 1993 levels.  Yes, we will lay off teachers in 2010, but a greater percentage of other employees will lose their jobs as well.

What about taxpayers?  We can’t very well isolate the cost increases from higher sales and income taxes brought about by Prop A, but undeniably property tax burden has been massively reduced.  Meanwhile SEV’s have kept pace with inflation.  Generally these should be viewed as favorable outcomes by taxpayers.

What other reasonable outcomes might the teachers and taxpayers of Grosse Pointe have preferred?  Is it reasonable that teachers should want to be compensated at levels even higher than their current #1 ranking, particularly in light of our drop in our per pupil revenue ranking?  Is it reasonable that taxpayers could want tax relief even greater than what Proposal A delivered?  There’s a pretty good argument here that Proposal A has been a fair and effective piece of legislation…when times were good.

So why has Prop A become the scapegoat for the current K-12 funding crisis?

The Proposal A dilemma is this:  What happens when the same economic forces that enabled increases in revenue per pupil which in turn drove increases in total compensation begin to stall or even reverse?

That’s where we are now. 

Our per pupil revenue has declined yet we have structural expense commitments predicated on the revenue increases that were the norm for most of the Proposal A era.  Gov. Granholm’s renege on 20J funds, a core component of Prop A, only further disrupted the delicate balance.  That’s the problem in a nutshell. 

Proposal A wasn’t particularly maligned as compensation increased and property taxes decreased.  But it’s clear now that the revenue model is not able to keep pace with the established expense pattern, a direct result of the state’s well-documented loss of wealth.  As state wealth rose so did compensation.  State wealth has dropped, but no one wants to acknowledge that perhaps compensation (of varying forms) must shadow state wealth in both directions. 

The potential decrease in income is an unfortunate prospect, but we enjoyed the fruits of Prop A and now we don’t want to taste its vinegar.

The Frank Ford’s of today probably feel much as he did then.  In Mr. Ford’s day the school boards could (and did) go back to taxpayers for property tax increases.  Today we do not have that option.  Mr. Ford probably didn’t like Governor Engler, but at least that governor and legislature had the political courage to bring about sweeping change in 1993’s time of crisis.  And history has proven that Grosse Pointe teachers had more reason to be optimistic than Mr. Ford was.

In 2010, political courage is nowhere to be found in Lansing, tempered in no small part by the well known sentiment of the voters’ distatste for higher tax burdens.  The voters in the state of Michigan have essentially said “we like Proposal A just the way it is.  Thank you very much. Figure out how to make it work with what it delivers.”

The data comparison from 1993 to 2009 shows what Proposal A delivers under good to normal economic conditions.  2010 gives us a glimpse as to what happens when that which had been able to giveth now begins to taketh away.

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Filed under Contract Negotiations, Current Events, GPPS Finances

2010-11 GPPSS Budget Development: Background, Process and Timeline

The 2010-11 Grosse Pointe Public School System budget will present perhaps the most difficult challenge to the district in its history.  Approaching such a problem with stakes as high as they are will require careful planning, collaboration, and deliberation.  Above all else, it requires an understanding of the dynamics that contribute to the current economic distress.

Last night’s Board of Education meeting was the first official Regular Meeting of the Board of Education of 2010.  I am honered to have been voted by my peers to serve in the role of treasurer, but at the same time I know that the task and responsibility of the position could not be any greater than they are right now.

Having spent the last 4 and a half years on the school board, and over a year before that, educating myself on the economic factors at play for our district and all those across the state of Michigan, I approach this daunting task with a great deal of confidence and resolve.  The trite phrase is “Knowledge is Power,” but knowledge is impotent if not leveraged.  The more people who have knowledge and choose to leverage it, the better off we will all be.  My strategy will be to continue to accumulate knowledge and leverage it to the greatest extent to solve our problems.

In that context I continue to invest substantial amounts of my own time making financial information accessible – meaning not just available, but simple to understand – for as many people as possible.  That is why this blog exists.  That is why I created the Financial Transparency Series and many other tools and reports available both on this blog and on the district’s web site.

Last night I delivered the presentation below to introduce the 2010-11 Budget Development Process, but more importantly the economic backdrop to that process.  It represents an abstract of the entire Financial Transparency Series.  I welcome your questions and feedback – so much so that I announced last night I will make myself available to present to any group across the district that has an interest in the finances of the Grosse Pointe Public School System.  So if you are a part of a PTO, athletic or performing arts booster group, or any other community group please take me up on my offer. I will be there.

The actual Resolution codifying the 2010-11 Budget Development Parameters can be found here.

I am a great fan of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a non-partisan policy think-tank specializing in Michigan governmental affairs.  Their motto is “The right to criticize government is also an obligation to know what you are talking about.”  I take that to heart and hope everyone else does as well.  So please consume these materials so you can contribute constructively to the solutions we need.

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Filed under Current Events, GPPS Budget Decisions, GPPS Finances

Contemplating the “New Normal” on Michigan’s Darkest Day

Michigan’s communities are engaged in a high stakes game, wrestling with the lethal combination of rising costs and falling revenues.  Despite the urgency of the situation, a long-term view is critical for long-term health.

New reports surface daily chronicling how communities are responding to the financial trauma plaguing Michigan public schools.  Here is a sampling of articles from Dearborn, Saugatuck/Portage, WyomingWayne-Westland/LivoniaBloomfield HillsAllendale, Coopersville, Grand Haven, Hudsonville, West Ottawa, Spring Lake, Charlevoix, Grand Ledge, Hemlock/Saginaw/Chesaning, Escanaba, Fenton/Holly/Linden, Lansing, Utica, Northville, Three Rivers, East Jackson, Adrian, Muskegon, Detroit, Walled Lake, and Birmingham

welcome to MI What’s the point?  The list runs the gamut of the wealthiest districts to those that receive the lowest per pupil revenue.  Some are very large and some are very small.  Some are urban, some suburban, and some rural.  Some were previously receiving section 20J funds and some never received them in the first place. 

The point is that if you’re a school district in the state of Michigan you are certain to be experiencing financial distress.  There are no exceptions.

Welcome to Michigan –  a great state, but great times?  Not so much.

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Filed under GPPS Budget Decisions, State of Michigan Finances