Clintondale Community Schools has been in continuous deficit-spending mode dating back to 2005-06.

The Macomb County district was not contrite in explaining nine consecutive years of being unable to balance its budget.

On a form required by Michigan Department of Education, the school district’s administration defiantly gives this reason for its failure: “Inadequate funding and declining enrollment.”

And in a recent Detroit News story, Ken Austin, the president of the district’s teachers union local said, “We would likely not be in the current position if it were not for the many huge cuts to school funding that districts have been forced to endure for many years.”

That’s their story, but the facts don’t support it. The declining enrollment part is true enough, but last year the district got more money per student than nine years ago, not less.

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In 2005-06, Clintondale had an enrollment of 3,401 students and received  $24.8 million in state funding, or $7,289 per pupil. In 2014-15, enrollment had fallen dropped to 2,994 students and state payments to $22.9 million - but that was still $7,641 per pupil.

In other words, Clintondale is now getting more state dollars per pupil, not fewer.

However, like many districts, skyrocketing pension costs have eaten up much of the increase. In 2007-08, Clintondale had 488 employees on its payroll. The district’s required annual contribution to the state-run school employee retirement system was $2.8 million.

By 2013-14, there were 22 fewer employees, yet pension expense had increased to $3.5 million.

Year after year, while Clintondale struggled, the state unsuccessfully worked to help get the district’s finances in order. 

The Michigan Department of Education says it gives school districts two years get out of debt incurred by spending more on routine operating expenses than tax revenues can support. So, how has Clintondale stayed in the red for nine years?

“Sometimes, the situations are such that it takes longer and we require monthly monitoring reports and specific conditions be met with those extended timelines,” said MDE Spokesman Bill DiSessa.

“Our goal is to give districts every opportunity to work out their deficits on their own,” he continued. “If a district is showing progress, we will allow it time to get to a balanced budget. Such has been the case with Clintondale. We’ve worked with the district and Macomb ISD to keep them focused on financial progress. Since it first went into deficit, the district has shown moments of progress, then regression. Because of the time it has been in deficit, Clintondale is transitioning to Treasury under the new early warning system early next year. We will continue to work with the district, ISD, and Treasury to keep the district focused on eliminating its deficit.”

Clintondale Superintendent Greg Green didn’t return an email seeking comment.

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See also:

Why Won't It Die? Media Keeps Pushing School Funding Cuts Myth

Federal Money to Michigan Schools is Dropping