Friends of Dexter Community Schools met at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Foggy Bottom Coffee House to discuss how public schools are funded and what can be done to improve funding for Dexter Community Schools. The closed Facebook group, titled Friends of Dexter Community Schools, tries to hold meetings on a monthly basis.
We Love Dexter staff members were invited to the meeting. About 10 people were in attendance Thursday, including Julie Schumaker, the Board of Education vice president for the district.
Jennifer Kangas, a parent of three children in the district, formed the group two-and-a-half years ago. She said she created it with the intent of keeping parents informed on how policy at the state and federal levels affect Dexter schools. The group also provides a place for teachers to have meaningful input into curriculum and programming in the district. In addition, it acts as a platform for sharing ideas on how to improve the district.
A handout on School Aid Revenue for 2012 was shared at the meeting, breaking down how school funding is obtained into a pie chart. Approximately 44% of school funding in Michigan comes from sales and use tax, almost 17% comes from income tax, just under 15% comes from federal funding and nearly 12% is from state education tax. Additional funding is obtained through taxes on tobacco, liquor, industrial and commercial facilities, real estate transfers, lottery profits, other revenue, other tax revenue and other funds.
Another graph in the packet showed the actual amount of money DCS has had available to spend per student going back nearly 20 years. The spending amount for 2013–2014, $5,729 per pupil, is slightly lower than the $5,802 provided per pupil back in the 1997–1998 school year. Peak funding per student was $6,944 per student during the 2008–2009 school year.
Kangas said the district is doing well, even though it has dealt with funding cuts in recent years. She added that it’s becoming a challenge to continue to provide for children based on the current funding, but said the district’s employees have done a phenomenal job in dealing with the funding decline per pupil to keep the cuts from negatively impacting the children.
A third handout provided by Kangas stated that over the past seven years, DCS teacher salary schedules decreased by 1.5%. Teachers’ health premiums have increased by $4,300 and 7% of teacher salary has been reduced and sent back to the state of Michigan.
Schumaker said DCS is an example of how a community can have a well-functioning district with a lean budget that still manages to put children first.
According to Schumaker, Dexter Community Schools are ranked 46th in the state for instructional support funding, and are in the bottom sixth percentile in the state for business and administration funding.
“We have done such a good job keeping cuts away from kids and parents,” Schumaker said.
The group said they have noticed some people on social media have felt Dexter Community Schools are going downhill in terms of the district’s budget, but said it’s because those people are looking at projections of revenues and expenses prior to their adjustment.
One parent said the school district has lost a percentage of students because some parents think that DCS doesn’t have enough programs for accelerated students.
In Dexter, International Baccalaureate courses, which are college level classes offered during junior and senior year in high school, are available in addition to AP courses. Approximately 140 students are taking at least one IB class. One School of Choice student is taking a full IB course-load.
Some district funding ideas that came up during the meeting included an enhancement millage, which would have to be voted on throughout Washtenaw County. The group also discussed the idea of a special education millage and vocational education millage, which would free up money in the general fund for other uses.
A parent in attendance said voc-ed is important for technical and STEM job fields in southeastern Michigan, where a four year college degree does not necessarily provide students with the required skill set needed to be hired in fields such as robotics.
Discussions also occurred on how some teachers are taking ongoing college courses to stay current and to improve the quality of their own teaching. The group said these teachers do not get reimbursed for the courses they take, but still have to meet certain requirements in order to stay certified to teach.
There are currently over 650 members belonging to the Friends of Dexter Community Schools group on Facebook.