Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Numbers Don't Lie, But ...

Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Livingston Educational Services Agency, has done public education a great service in their struggle to avoid Rick Snyder's draonian budget cuts.

To do it, he used a calculator and put Rick Snyder's own math to the test.

Snyder has decided to raid the $540 million surplus in the school aid fund in order to help pay for tax cuts for Michigan businesses. Never mind that Michigan voters who backed Proposal A thought they were guaranteeing school funding when they voted for higher sales taxes in the 1990s.

Snyder has insisted that the $470 per pupil state aid cut he is proposing is no big deal for schools. All they have to do is make teachers pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums and privatize some services (union-bust) and that will make up the difference, no sweat.

Menzel, in a guest column in Sunday's Livingston Press and Argus, put Snyder's numbers to the test of real math. (Thanks to the Press and Argus for this series of guest columns.)

Snyder's budget cut, and the increase in retirement payments mandated by the Legislature, will cost Livingston County schools $20 million a year. The districts already have privatized services so there is little savings there, but coupling that with the 20 percent health insurance co-pay, saves the districts only $5.55 million. Some districts already have co-pays so the savings is not as great as Snyder anticipates.

That $5.55 million covers just 43 percent of the school aid cut and 31 percent of the total budget impact of Snyder's proposals and the retirement increase.

Even if all teachers took a 5 percent pay cut, that would generate another $6.9 million -- still just over half of the $20 million that needs to be made up. And the districts would have to lay of 188 teachers to make up the difference.

In other words, Snyder has been wrong when he has told reporters over and over again that all schools have to do to make up the difference is impose co-pays and privatize services. He is not even close to being accurate.

How could this happen? There are several possibilities. Maybe Snyder didn't run the numbers before making the proposal. Well, he's an accountant, so that's hard to believe. Maybe his calculator was broken and gave him the wrong answer.

Let's see, what else? Could it be maybe Snyder just decided not to tell the truth and thought no one would notice?

Whichever way it happened, Snyder is only telling 43 percent of the truth.

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