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School budget cuts a major concern for area superintendents

Posted at 6:51 AM, May 28, 2020

WYOMING, Mich. — Superintendents from around West Michigan will be meeting with health leaders Thursday to discuss getting students back to the classrooms safely.

As the current school year wraps up from home under an executive order, there's a lot of discussion and worry about what's next for K-12 schools and educationin Michigan as a whole.

"What COVID-19 created was also a financial crisis and economic crisis caused by shutting down the economy in order to keep people safe," said Kevin Polston, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Wyoming. "In mid-May, when the state had the consensus revenue estimating conference, it became more clear of the gravity of the situation, and for the current school year $1.2 billion shortfall for schools. That averages out to a $700 per pupil cut ... something we just cannot sustain."

Most school districts can't, according to school leaders from a group called the West Michigan Talent Triangle, made up of 41 superintendents from Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon counties, incluiding includes Polston.

They believe a more than a billion dollar shortfall to wrap up the 2019-2020 school year would be disastrous for education, educators and students in the state. Not to mention a possibility of even less funding next school year.

"We're looking at cutting over 10 percent of our budget to address the COVID-19 specific impact on our economy", said Polston. "And when we look at what those total numbers equate to, we're looking at 15 to 20 classroom teachers as equivalent. And we're looking at our entire K through 12 arts and music program. And we're looking at our at-risk budget for a school district that has 95 percent for reduced lunch students. And so, none of those cuts are ones that we're willing to make."

Polston also says budget cuts could be a reality if schools don't get financial help from the state and federal governments, and, in the long run, it will be the kids who suffer.

The meeting among superintendents will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday via Zoom.

To put even more pressure on school districts during the pandemic, they must have balanced budgets to submit to the state by June 30.