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State school chief: Consolidate services

Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan thinks the state's schools would benefit from centralizing some functions, including transportation and food services.

Flanagan spoke to a joint meeting of the House Appropriations School Aid and Education subcommittees Wednesday.

He said some large districts, including Wayne County,  have many separate transportation systems.

Flanagan's proposal would also consolidate functions such as staff training, which he says would save millions of dollars.

He told the subcommittee that the state should not delay in implementing a program because too many districts are in deficit or nearing deficit status.

But Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) says he worries about mandating service consolidations.

"I don't think the plan is fully fleshed out. The idea of consolidation for consolidation sake is a mistake," Dillon says. "If we're going to do this, we need to make sure it's done smartly, striking the right balance between saving money and making sure we retain local flavor with local school districts."

Dillon charges that schools have been shortchanged in the last two and a half years by Republicans and Gov. Snyder.

"They have made a conscious decision to take money from the schools to put it in other  parts of the budget -- primarily to finance corporate tax cuts," Dillon says.

"Now we're talking about 'consolidate' because school districts have to save money. We don't need another excuse for Lansing to say, 'You've saved $10 million, we don't need to give you that in your foundation allowance."

Superintendent Flanagan also said he favored a sales tax on some services, with the money being earmarked specifically for schools.

Dillon says that idea was originally floated by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"I don't think it has legs in the current legislature," Dillon says.