The Craig Fahle Show

Flanagan Back to School 2013 Editorial: The Most Important Issue

As students head back to school, WDET asked some of Michigan's most influential experts and policy makers to answer the question: What is the most critical issue facing education in Michigan and how can it be solved? Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flanagan, offers this editorial about his number one issue:

There are over 50 Michigan school districts in deficit, with many others possibly on that path if thoughtful changes are not made quickly. Two Michigan school districts recently were required by state law to dissolve because they were financially unable to operate for this upcoming school year.

The Michigan Department of Education works diligently with these struggling school districts, to help them develop Deficit Elimination Plans, as required by state law. Rather than working with districts after they are in financial trouble, wouldn’t it make sense to prevent trouble in the first place? It has become evident that we need a broader solution.

I have provided a proposal to the state Legislature that I believe could help save local districts and gain efficiencies. It is a proposal to develop a hybrid system to centralize administration functions, services, and responsibilities at the county or regional level.

There is high accountability in our schools – not only for the districts, but for the educators, as well. By moving administrative functions to the ISD level, school districts will be able to focus more time, energy, and resources on student learning; and not on what I call the “buses and burgers.”

When I was a local superintendent, much of my focus in August in September was centered on getting the school bus routes operating and the school meals organized. Unfortunately, I was not able to focus on what was going to be taught in the classrooms.

Local districts should be getting their administrative services from their intermediate school districts (ISD), when more efficient and there’s a cost savings. Or, if a local district can provide an administrative service at a less cost, then the ISD could contract with them to do so for all of the local districts in the region...and the ISD still would be the facilitator of that.

To clarify, this plan is NOT to eliminate local school districts – but to consolidate duplicative administrative functions and responsibilities, and provide a more equitable education for all students.

By achieving these economies of scale, there are likely millions of dollars in savings. Why do you think we don’t have individual school buildings with their own transportation system; payroll system; accounting system; purchasing system; information system? It is because money was saved by consolidating those functions at the district level.

Now is a practical, and urgent, time to move those administrative functions to the ISD level.

And all that money can go back into the classroom. Just as I would hope that charter school operators would invest more of the savings they would see from their consolidation efforts with their authorizer back into their classrooms.

This allows local districts to focus on two things especially: higher levels of achievement and educator evaluation and effectiveness.

It’s not all about the money, it’s about getting resources into Michigan classrooms… and it’s about letting local districts focus on learning.

In an ideal world, there would be a statewide sales tax on services earmarked for education. These should be done in tandem – implement efficiency reforms and a sales tax on services for education.

I believe that much of the public would agree, especially if we get these economies of scale. Having said that, we don’t deserve that model, including revenue, if we can’t spend the money responsibly.

By the way, I’ve always thought it was unfair that we don’t collect taxes for going to the movie, but the state collects tax on a poor mom who buys a coat for her child.

Centralized ISD services, where it makes sense…. Not “one size fits all.”

By the way, I’ve heard that not all ISD's can provide those services. If an ISD can’t offer those services, my proposal calls for them to merge with another ISD.

I realize that this proposal is not perfect, but it has started a much needed and thoughtful conversation here in Lansing and in school communities across Michigan.

Maintaining the status quo no longer is an option. This is a possible solution to have schools be more efficient and better able to focus on their ultimate responsibility – helping all children achieve.

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