Kalamazoo Schools Face Dire Budget Outlook

May 15, 2020

Screenshot of the "virtual" Kalamazoo School Board meeting on May 14, 2020
Credit John McNeill / WMUK

The COVID-19 pandemic could have a devastating impact on the Kalamazoo Public Schools well into the next school year and beyond.

Interim Superintendent Gary Start says it could lose up to a quarter of its state aid for the coming school year. That's because the state's revenue is way down because sales, income and other taxes have plunged since the outbreak started.

"When the economy falters, school districts directly feel the impact. However the numbers I've heard this week are shocking. They're just absolutely unimaginable."

Start says the Kalamazoo Public Schools could have to cut spending by $27 million for the coming school year. He told School Board trustees at their meeting on May 14 that means very deep and painful reductions in spending .

"It would be impossible to address it without major cuts to programs for students, substantial employee contract concessions, major layoffs, and eliminating our fund balance. Even then, I'm not sure it's possible."

Start says the Kalamazoo Schools could lose up to two thousand dollars per student in state funding. And he says trustees have only about 45 days to decide where to make cuts. Start says there could be some relief from Washington if Congress approves a second stimulus package.

Kalamazoo School Board President Patti Sholler-Barber says the looming cuts will make it even harder for the district's teachers to serve their students.

"I fear these cuts, what they're going to do to these people who chose a very noble, noble profession."

Sholler-Barber says KPS teachers have kept the education of students going despite the challenges of the pandemic. But she says the move to remote instruction has not been good for the student-teacher relationship.

"That's been ripped away. And that is a trauma for both the teacher who calls their students theirs as well as for those children."