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MI, East Lansing teachers prepare for more cuts

school classroom
File Photo
East Lansing High School science teacher Brad Baryo helps a student. Baryo and other educators say state funding cuts will increase class sizes and limit one-on-one help. photo: Mark Bashore/WKAR

By Mark Bashore, WKAR News


Michigan teachers are bracing themselves for the next round of cuts to education. This fall, per-pupil funding in most state districts will fall, between $400 and $500. WKAR's Mark Bashore checked in at East Lansing Public Schools to learn how the cuts could impact classrooms.


Minutes before classes begin, the intricacies of state government seem far removed from the hallways of East Lansing High School. But teachers and administrators say the impact of the recently approved state budget won't take long to be felt here. The district will be getting less "foundation" money next year--about $470 fewer per student.

John Brandenburg has taught math for 14 years in East Lansing.

"Because we've had so many previous cuts and we've tried to keep the cuts away from the classroom, I think that those cuts have been made," he says.

It means East Lansing is handing out 14 pink slips to help address a $2.7 million budget deficit next year. Teachers like Brandenburg, who survived, are preparing for larger class sizes as teaching staff downsizes.

Down the hall, science teacher Brad Baryo says a shrinking faculty will also limit class offerings.

"You're going to have a teacher teaching five sections of Biology and they won't be able to teach an AP class, or they won't be able to teach an anatomy [class], they won't be able to teach AP French," he says.

Baryo is most concerned with the impact bigger class sizes will have on one-on-one instruction.

"With a class of 24, I might have two kids that need extra attention," he explains. "With a class of 30, I'm going to have three or four kids that need more extra attention, and there are some kids that are discipline problems," he explains. "Every time you add more students, the problems go up."

On the elementary level, increased class sizes may lead to more splits -- that's combining two grade levels into the same classroom.

Cliff Seybert is East Lansing's curriculum director.

"And we have great teachers but their ability to teach a very dense curriculum that, in the case of a split, you'd be teaching both second grade curriculum and third grade curriculum," he says. "So that's, I think, a significant issue. It isn't that it can't be done, because we have done it, historically, but it's simply not an optimal situation."

East Lansing and other districts plan for fewer counselors, less administrative support and significant cuts to athletics and other extra-curricular activities. Officials say this is the district's 10th straight year of deficits. In that time it's cut costs $15 million.

Critics of the cuts also say that's hurting the state's ability to remain competitive.

Supporters of the new state budget say previous belt-tightening efforts have been inadequate.

Senator Phil Pavlov is the GOP Chair of the Senate Education committee. He says raising teacher health care contributions to 20% is a way local districts can do a lot to relieve packed classrooms.

"That is an enormous fix to local school district budgets," he says. "Yes, you're shifting that responsibility to the employee, but the reality is that in the private sector, the average employee pays about 28% of their premiums."

Republican lawmakers encourage districts to get more by expanding other "best practices" that would make them eligible for more state money.

Pavlov says the education sector has delayed a painful fiscal reckoning with measures that ultimately were no match for declining property values, shrinking population and the Great Recession.

Ten full years after the start of Michigan's so-called "lost decade," schools--and the students who attend them--continue adjusting to less.

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