Cynical Synapse

Tue, 08 Dec 2009

Berkley School Funding Plan Doesn’t Add Up

Filed under: Budget, Economy, Education, Government, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:14 pm

Berkley High School

School funding is definitely a concern in Michigan, especially after the State Senate and Gov. Granholm cut per pupil funding. In fact, Granholm says more cuts are coming. Detroit northern suburb Berkley wants to shift costs to a bond proposal. The district plans to ask voters to approve a $169.1 million bond issue for energy and maintenance improvements. The measure includes a new middle school and administrators expect to save $2 million from the annual operating budget.

Berkley schools are pretty good, rating 8 out of 10 and the district made adequate yearly progress, except at the high school. I bring this up because the bond proposal doesn’t pass the common sense test. The district wants voters to indebt themselves for $169.1 million dollars to save about $2 million in yearly operational costs. Now, although these are big numbers, my elementary school math tells me the breakeven point is 84-1/2 years. And Berkley says they need the bond because the district’s 11 buildings average 65 years old. So, let’s see. Return on investment is almost 20 years longer than the current age of buildings? There must be something really simple that I’m missing here.

Pipefitter repalcing water pipes in Avery Center

Small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but why is this question going on a special election February 23rd? Why didn’t Berkley Schools’ brain trust figure this out, put it on the ballot for the general election last November, so they could save Berkley voters some money? That’s what annoys me about school millage votes. They hold special elections and they keep holding them until the voters get tired and pass the millage.

Not to throw stones at Berkley’s glass house, but if the primary emphasis of the bond measure is to cut energy costs, why didn’t the district hold its hands out for Stimulus money? They could have cut the $2 million from operational costs without asking Berkely residents for a single dime!

Beyond the mathematics of the bond issue and its return on investment (or lack thereof), surrounding districts haven’t really made out on this type of venture. Consider Hazel Park Schools, which passed a similar measure in 2002. Since then, the district has closed elementary schools and plans to cut programs to balance the budget. So much for energy efficiency benefits to the operating budget.

The real problem with school funding is the amount districts have to pay for benefits, such as retirement. In most districts, it’s more than what’s spent “on books, buses, computer technology and building maintenance combined,” according to the Detroit News. As a result, short-term solutions become long-term issues. Hazel Park is offering early retirements to reduce the number of top-scale teachers, who make about $80,000. In their place? A retiree who gets about $50,000 and a new teacher who makes about $34,000. Net savings? How about minus $4k? No wonder Junior can’t add or subtract.

Our schools cannot continue to see increasing non-educational costs taking a bigger share of per pupil funding. At the same time people were denigrating the automakers and the UAW, Michigan teachers had similar benefits. What’s up with that? Never mind that State Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland) didn’t see a problem with the $2 million additional costs for schools. The magnitude of the problem varies by district size.

If we value education, let’s fund it. If we don’t, then we’re probably good. And we should continue to expect Michigan to slip further behind the rest of the US and the US to rank lower than other developed countries. Never mind that state education experts think this kind of smoke-and-mirrors game is “the right path.”


14 Dec 2009

According to data from National Center for Educational Statistics, Berkley spent 53% of its money on instruction, which is higher than Michigan’s average of 46%.


  1. Thanks for the great way you stated this!! I was wondering if I could get permission to use some or all? I am very much against this Bond being passed. Also how may I contact you?

    Comment by Kurt H — Wed, 16 Dec 2009 @ 11:53 am

    • Kurt, yes you may use all or part but I do not own the rights to the pictures which I believe I am using under the provisions of fair use.

      You can contact me at jph2 at gmx dot net.

      Comment by Cynical Synapse — Wed, 16 Dec 2009 @ 2:41 pm

  2. Citizens For Fiscal Responsibility

    Comment by Kurt H — Thu, 17 Dec 2009 @ 5:14 pm

  3. Berkley is completely different than Hazel Park!

    Comment by Pete Sanders — Thu, 07 Jan 2010 @ 7:41 pm

    • @Pete Sanders: I sense a little snobbery here, but I’ll step beyond that.

      When Hazel Park passed their bond issue, the District was in ok shape and it all made sense. Age of buildings, energy conservation, the whole lot. Yes, it was also touted as cost-savings.

      As state funding and other school revenues fell of the edge of the flat planet, Hazel Park closed schools, including some that had been rehabbed as part of the bond issue. I never meant to compare Berkley to Hazel Park, but Hazel Park’s experience should be a lesson to Berkley.

      For the record, I voted for Hazel Park’s bond and my daughter got a year in the new Junior High and benefits of the add-ons ad the Highe School. But if the measure was on the ballot today, I’d vote no. That’s all I’m saying.

      Administrators are going to spin it how they want it, but voters need to consider a bigger picture. And new buildings or energy mods are not the operational funding solutions some may be suggesting. I think the Hazel Park example is proof of that. While it’s not a perfect district, I don’t think it’s mismanaged, so that’s not the issue.

      I realize you support the Berkley bond issue, which is fine, but that’s no reason to dis Hazel Park. Is there another metro Detroit district (or even Michigan district) that recently approved a similar bond issue and had a more positive result than Hazel Park?

      Comment by cynicalsynapse — Thu, 07 Jan 2010 @ 9:30 pm

  4. I was not dissing Hazel Park, as I used to live there before moving to Berkley.

    However the school districts are completely different on an academic level.

    Comment by Pete Sanders — Wed, 13 Jan 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    • Thanks for returning Pete.

      I’m not following how academic level affects the outcome of a building and renovation bond issue. In the absence of contrary evidence, new and updated buildings won’t offer the operational cost savings just like Hazel Park’s bond issue.

      The biggest operational costs in a school district are salaries and benefits. Claiming new buildings will offer significant savings is just political speak to get voters to pass the bond issue.

      Comment by Cynical Synapse — Wed, 13 Jan 2010 @ 3:08 pm

  5. If you factor the interest cost over the life of the bond the real cost of this insanity is well over $400,000,000. They hold this election in February when a lot of the old timers who would vote no are in Florida or Arizona. Huntington Woods has never said no to a millage in the 30 years I’ve lived here. It’s tme for change.

    Comment by John Stempin — Mon, 25 Jan 2010 @ 12:29 pm

  6. Hey just and update been working on a site against the bond.

    Also is a link on there to a Facebook group started for the same reason.

    Thanks Cynical Synapse for the heads up

    Comment by Kurt H — Mon, 25 Jan 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  7. @John: Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I’ve long not liked the fact school districts keep putting millage issues on the ballot until voters wear down and pass them. Good observation about the February special elections when snowbirds are gone. It makes sense. And what about the cost of that special election, as well?

    @Kurt H: Anything I can do to help. I don’t have a dog in Berkley’s hunt, but I can’t see how this benefits the voters or residents there. I think Hazel Park’s experience speaks for itself.

    Comment by cynicalsynapse — Mon, 25 Jan 2010 @ 7:39 pm

  8. You can’t do a pure cost analysis because the cost savings is not the primary reason for the bond proposal. The bond is to raise money to completely renovate/rebuild Berkley schools to improve education. How can you prepare students for a 21st century world when you are educating them in 1960 facilities?

    Comment by Robert P — Wed, 27 Jan 2010 @ 1:58 am

    • Thanks for stopping by, Robert P. I get that and don’t disagree. If that’s what the bond proposal is for, then voters can make their choices.

      Problem is it’s being marketed as a means to reduce operating costs. That’s disingenuous in my opinion. And it didn’t pay off in Hazel Park’s case. But, yeah, we got new and renovated buildings ready for 21st century technology. That’s not how our bond was advertised, either.

      Comment by Cynical Synapse — Wed, 27 Jan 2010 @ 10:25 am

  9. Educational quality does not equate with the buildings age as both of my kids are recent graduates of Berkley schools and had national awards,as do many other kids. When they move on to college the buildings for the most part are also old.
    This bond is inappropriate in the current economic climate-scope of expense, and building/rebuilding too many schools.
    WE in Berkley schools cannot take on the educational/ financial/ infrastructure responsibility for hundreds of SOC children.
    The district administrators need to show leadership by addressing their building management responsibilities in a more fiscally appropriate way and waiting to see what happens with the local/state economy in the coming year or two instead of asking for a credit card with 439 million on it.

    Comment by FranB — Tue, 02 Feb 2010 @ 6:30 am

    • What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. Thanks for stopping by, FranB.

      Comment by Cynical Synapse — Tue, 02 Feb 2010 @ 7:35 am

  10. Would rather spend money on retaining and attracting quality teachers and an academically strong curriculum. That would be more bang for the buck and would draw families to Berkley. That’s why we moved here.

    Comment by PhilB — Tue, 02 Feb 2010 @ 10:45 am

    • Sorry I missed your comment earlier, but you’ve hit the nail on the head. I don’t think school administrators get that anymore. Thanks.

      Comment by cynicalsynapse — Mon, 22 Feb 2010 @ 11:04 pm

  11. We have taken a first step towards improving our schools the proper way. Thanks for the support!!!!

    Comment by Kurt H — Wed, 24 Feb 2010 @ 9:40 am

  12. I’m glad it turned out that way for Berkley. Unfortunately, Pinckney was bullied into passing the millage they had turned down last November. Chippewa Valley and Hartland also passed their millages.

    Comment by cynicalsynapse — Wed, 24 Feb 2010 @ 12:32 pm

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