City, school leaders discuss budget challenges

By: Jeremy Carroll | Royal Oak Review | Published March 28, 2011

 State Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, leads a small group discussion at a recent roundtable event with local school and municipal leaders.

State Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, leads a small group discussion at a recent roundtable event with local school and municipal leaders.

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ROYAL OAK — Saying the fate of Michigan’s cities is closely aligned to their neighborhood school districts, Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, held a roundtable discussion with various local leaders March 18 to discuss the state budget.

“At a very basic level, we understand the two are tied together,” Townsend said to a group of approximately 30 people at Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools’ Administrative Building. “We need to find ways to get together.”

Leaders from the cities of Madison Heights, Roseville, Ferndale, Berkley and Hazel Park, along with local school districts, discussed the current situation and possible solutions moving forward.

“The only way we are going to resolve this situation is by working together,” Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools Superintendent Tom Moline said. “We are hacking at the branches of the problem, not the root.”

The discussion comes of the heels of a proposed state budget that would reduce the per-pupil amount given to school districts by $470 this budget year, along with eliminating some state shared revenue within its communities.

Townsend said Royal Oak schools should be used as a model to show that even if everything is done to rein in costs, it is still not enough. In recent years, the district has reduced its size by eight schools, privatized a host of services, got concessions from teachers and eliminated half of its top administrators.

“We have privatized basically anything that breathes,” Moline said.

He criticized the plan to cut business taxes and reduce spending on schools in the same budget.

“I don’t know why we aren’t talking about a graduated tax rate,” Moline said.

Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher said the city has reduced its staff and obtained major concessions as well, but it’s not enough.

“We got concessions from our retirees on health care and we didn’t get much push-back from them because they know the dire situation we are in,” he said. “We are not unique.”

Ferndale Public Schools Director of Communications Stephanie Hall said it was important for the district and the city to work in conjunction.

“We need to build the relationship with the city because we are in this together,” she said.

Madison Heights City Manager Jon Austin said whatever the formula, more revenue needs to put into the system, regardless of how it is accomplished.

“We are not going to solve today’s problems without more revenue,” he said.

The city is one of many in the area asking for tax increases in the May election.

Townsend, who has proposed a southeast Michigan caucus of legislatures, said this meeting was one of many they plan on holding.

“This is not the last time we will meet,” he said. “If we all work together, regardless of party, we can have a bigger sphere of influence.”

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