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Last Updated: 11/20/2017
 

 Article of Interest - Education and the Upper Peninsula

Declining Student Rolls Topic at Summit
by James Lake, The Mining Journal, September 6, 2002
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The solution for dealing with declining enrollment in the Upper Peninsula should come from local schools, state Superintendent Tom Watkins said.

He issued a friendly challenge to U.P. school administrators Thursday at the U.P. Education Legislative Summit in Marquette to come up with creative solutions to declining enrollment. He said he would help sell the solution in Lansing.


“I want superintendents and communities to put together the best plan and I will help facilitate getting that to the new governor early in their term,” Watkins said. “All wisdom and knowledge does not emanate from the state capitol.”


Watkins said he’s confident the U.P. school administrators can rise to the challenge.


“When you come to the U.P. there’s a can-do spirit,” he said. “There’s a desire to find a way to solve the problem.”


Watkins praised the concerted effort by U.P. legislators and educators to reinstate special funding for districts with declining enrollment, which had been eliminated for U.P. schools from an early K-12 budget package.
“We are a state. To treat the communities, families and students of the U.P. differently in a negative way than the rest of the state, what is that?” Watkins said. “I haven’t seen cooperation like that since Dominic Jacobetti.”


Watkins said he’s also pleased that the U.P. will still participate in the new Learning Without Limits technology program, which was what the U.P.’s declining enrollment funding was originally shifted to. The U.P. will receive one $2 million grant for the program, but how that money is distributed has not yet been determined.


Watkins said U.P. schools may be able to find a way to share that funding for technology, rather than send it all to one district or area.


“I’m hoping they can work together,” he said.


But some solutions for schools will have to come from other places, Watkins said.


The current funding schedule forces many districts to borrow money to pay bills for the year until the state funding is disbursed, Watkins said. Simply changing the disbursement timing could save districts throughout the state millions each year in short-term borrowing costs, he said.


Watkins said the current funding model, which provides money based on enrollment, only covers operational costs and not infrastructure upkeep.


While the gubernatorial candidates have been arguing about whether Proposal A, which capped property tax increases and changed the school funding structure, should be changed, Watkins said people should be more concerned about solving these funding problems.


“Nobody wants to take away the gains of Proposal A,” he said. “To say
that we shouldn’t look at it is patently absurd.”

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