School chief battles
State superintendent questions governor's plan for grant funds
by Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, Detroit Free Press, October
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State Superintendent of Education Tom Watkins is taking on
Gov. John Engler over the governor's refusal to fill 45
federally funded positions in the state Department of
Watkins wants to use the money -- about $2.5 million -- to
hire people to help the state administer federal grants and
oversee the new federal No Child Left Behind laws, said T.J.
Bucholz, Watkins' spokesman. The No Child Left Behind
legislation calls for sanctioning schools if they fail to meet
testing and other standards.
The state could lose the federal money if it doesn't use it,
Bucholz said Wednesday.
"The Michigan Department of Education has worked hard to bring
the bacon home from Washington, D.C.," Watkins said. He
accused the Engler administration of "playing games with
Michigan's children" and said, "Those federal dollars are
specifically earmarked for education reform."
A spokeswoman for Engler said the money doesn't have to be
used for jobs, and the governor is considering putting the
revenue into classrooms instead.
"Do we use this federal funding to put more money in the
classroom, or do we use the federal funding to put more jobs
into the Department of Education?" asked Susan Shafer. One
option is to send more money to low-performing schools or
school districts, she said.
Shafer added that because the state is facing a budget
deficit, the governor is carefully weighing which public
positions should be filled.
Bucholz said not all of the federal funding can be used in
"We always want to funnel as much money into the classroom as
possible," he said. But without more administrative help, he
said, the education department can't provide oversight of new
"If we don't have the bodies to move these programs forward,
we may be forced to leave some of the money on the table,"
The education department is shorthanded after years of
downsizing by the Engler administration, Bucholz said. The
department has gone from 2,000 employees in 1990 to 283 today.
Another 66 employees have opted for an Engler-sponsored early
retirement program. The department has been authorized to fill
26 of those jobs, primarily for care providers at the Michigan
Schools for the Deaf and Blind, which has campuses in Flint
Contact PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI at 586-469-4681 or