Local residents inspired to take action for school funding

As state funding for local schools has diminished a group of Dexter parents have come together to try to advocate for their district’s children.

Jennifer Kangas was appalled in 2012 when a lame duck session of the Michigan House proposed a package of bills that would have taken the caps off charter schools allowing for more money to be allocated from public to charter schools. Knowing that Dexter Community Schools’ funding would have been severely impacted by the bills, she wanted to find a way to advocate for her district’s needs.

Kangas began gathering support by reaching out to parents, teachers, school administrators and board members and found that many felt very similarly. At the urging of another local parent, Kangas started a Facebook group called ‘Friends of Dexter Community Schools‘ where more parents could join and get involved.

Laura Jones, another Dexter parent and leader within the Friends of Dexter Community School group, said the issue of funding has come to the forefront of the community with recent talks of annexing Whitmore Lake Public Schools. Although the board of education recently decided that the funding needed to combine the schools was too great, the discussion brought to light the district’s dwindling funding.

“We have serious financial problems,” Jones said. “All schools have financial problems unless you’re a charter school.”

Dexter Community Schools does have a $6 million fund balance, but each year the number of per-pupil dollars the district receives from the state is smaller. This upcoming year alone the district is facing a potential $44 per pupil cut in funding from the State of Michigan Foundation Allowance, which accounts for the majority of the school’s day-to-day operating budget.

“Instead of the legislators asking that our teachers do a better job that we should demand that they should do a better job for our kids by investing more,” Kangas said.

Legally districts are prohibited from raising a millage for schools’ operating budgets, so Dexter can’t raise taxes to help itself out. It can only rely on state funding.

Jones added that the district has done good job keeping the budget balanced so far, but it has come at a high price.

“We’ve been balancing our budget on the backs of our teachers,” she said referring to the pay freezes and cuts teachers in Dexter and around the state have faced.

Kangas and Jones have both traveled to Lansing to meet with local representatives and sit in on house committee meetings. They hope to encourage other parents and community members to help advocate for the district together. Currently, the group is hosting town hall-style meetings to brainstorm ways to fundraise money that can be donated to the district.

“We should be working together toward a common good,” Kangas said.

Both Kangas and Jones stress that although education tends to be politicized at the state level, the Friends of Dexter Community Schools group is not a political one.

“It’s bipartisan,” Jones said. “This is not a left-right issue. Every parent wants what’s best for their kids.”

You can join the Friends of Dexter Community Schools group on Facebook or email Kangas at jennkangas@gmail.com to become more involved.

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