Superintendent Jerome M. Skarbek still isn’t sure why his tiny southwestern Michigan district lost about 60 students last summer. But he knew that the reduced enrollment—worth about $250,000 this year in state aid—could shut down his two schools.
So in July, the former school business officer did the only thing he could think of: He consulted the law. As it turned out, the state statute that taketh away also giveth back.
Michigan’s 1996 measure that allows students to attend public schools outside their districts without paying tuition also protects districts that suffer sharp drops in enrollment because of those choices. Districts with more than a 10 percent enrollment loss get state aid for 90 percent of the public school students who live there, regardless of where they go to school.
To Mr. Skarbek’s 320-student Galien Township district, that is likely to mean more than $1 million in back and current payments.
“When I discovered that sentence [in the law], all the hair follicles just went up,” the superintendent said.
When Mr. Skarbek brought the provision to the attention of state officials, they said they’d pay up. “We’ve known we needed eventually to do a computer program that would check for the situation, but we thought it would be a surprise” if any district actually qualified, said Elaine Madigan Mills, who directs state aid for the Michigan Department of Education. Six other districts are due smaller sums of money than Galien will get, officials found.
Meanwhile, Mr. Skarbek is planning to bolster his budget—this year set at about $2.9 millionfirst, by raising salaries, then by upgrading facilities and curriculum.
“This may be our last, best chance of making something good happen,” he said, “and I don’t want to blow it.”