Schools cutting, but also building

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - Public school districts in southwest Michigan may be cutting their operations budgets, but they're also spending tens of millions on facility upgrades, according to The Kalamazoo Gazette.

At least seven districts are building or renovating schools, The Gazette reported, paid for through local property taxes that voters have approved in those districts over the past five years. Since the money is earmarked for capital improvements, it can't be spent on operations, a scenario that can create confusion among residents, administrators told The Gazette.

"You can't help but have some people asking, 'Why are you building these buildings?' Those questions are out there," Tom Noverr, assistant superintendent of operations in Portage Public Schools, told The Gazette.

Portage voters approved $120 million in bond issues in 2007. It is building two new schools and renovating another, but at the same time the district is cutting its operations budget in response to less state funding, according to The Gazette.

Noverr and Portage school board trustee Melanie Kurdys told The Gazette that the district is benefitting from lower construction costs and also pointed out that facilities projects put people to work.

However, Kurdys also said districts must be careful not to add space that isn't needed, The Gazette reported.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Building boom for cash-strapped schools: Taxpayers in southwestern Michigan OK projects, even as state cuts operating revenues," Jan. 16, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's prevailing wage law forces schools to waste money," Dec. 13, 2001