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Role of ISDs growing as budgets tighten

September 30, 2012
By JACKIE STARK - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Intermediate school districts across the state are celebrating their 50th birthdays this year, having been created in 1962.

With such a long history and rich tradition of assisting their local public school districts to provide a quality education to area youths, it sometimes comes as a surprise to ISD employees how little known their work actually is.

"We're not really well known," said William Miller, executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators. "In the community, the challenge for us is to make sure people know what value we're adding. We need to do a good job of explaining our mission and what we do for the state and the kids of the state."

Some of those little known services include offering hundreds of hours of professional development for local teachers, helping each district with their annual count days and offering audit preparation services, among others.

The Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency takes care of all of those and lots more for the 13 public school districts in Marquette and Alger counties.

MARESA also employs several different types of therapists and special education professionals who travel through the two-county jurisdiction.

Fact Box


2012-13 general fund budget

$11.7 million in revenues, including:

- $9.1 M in grant revenues

- $1.1 M in local revenues, including property taxes

$11.6 million in expenditures, including:

- $9.1 M in grant revenues passed through to schools

- $1.4 M in salaries and benefits

- $1 M in purchased services, including Michigan Virtual High School, Charter Fiber contract, NMU?Career and Technical contract

2012-13 special education budget

$11.1 million in revenues, including:

- $6.2 M in local revenues, including property taxes

- $0.6 M in state revenues

- $3.6 M in grant revenues

$10.2 million in expenditures, including:

- $8.3 M of support to local districts - cash and services

- $0.8 M in dedicated grants

- $0.8 M in special education administrative costs

- $0.3 M for other services for school districts

And as the years have gone by, MARESA Superintendent Steve Peffers said the role of ISDs in Michigan has begun to shift from that of mostly assisting their local school districts to also policing them.

Whereas in earlier years, ISDs were responsible in helping local districts stay complaint with state laws, and the Michigan DOE would perform audits to test the districts' compliancy, it's now up to the ISDs to audit their local districts and report their findings back to the state.

"The ISD role we see evolving from one in helping ensure that our local districts remain in compliance with all of these guidelines and so forth, to now, us being required to audit them and therefore penalize them when out of compliance, which will be a new role for us," Peffers said.

Any fines accrued as a result of those penalties is then sent by the ISDs back to the state.

With a continuing trend toward more reporting in the public school system combined with less dollars flowing in, MARESA Associate Superintendent of Finance, Information Systems and Quality Assurance Services Bob Nardi said the eventual result is similar for local districts as well as their ISDs - an increase in the necessary amount of accountability with a decrease in the number of people whose job is to prove compliance.

MARESA has downsized itself by 11.5 full time equivalent positions in the last four years, mostly through attrition.

"It's had a significant burden for us. Basically, we're filling in (for the state)," Nardi said. "This is one of those functions where you're seeing, nationwide, public service employees being reduced and a significant capacity reduction at the administrative level, but a significant increase in requirements and the difficulty is trying to find a way to fit these requirements on our limited staffs."

One of the biggest increases MARESA has seen in its responsibilities comes in the form of grant money. While the state used to issue much of its grant money to individual school districts, it's now sending much of it to the local ISDs and asking them to disperse the funding, as well as audit the districts to ensure they are in compliance with laws that allow them to receive those dollars.

MARESA manages a total of 86 grants, with 71 of those grants flowing into its general fund and 15 to its special education fund.

Of the $11.7 million of revenue in its 2012-2013 general fund, $9.1 million comes in the form of grant revenues, with $8.7 million of that from state fiscal agent grants and $400,000 from other grants.

Local grants include the Upper Peninsula Center for Educational Development, the U.P. Administrators Academy, and the Early Childhood Investment Corporation.

State grants include Great Parents Great Start, Great Start Collaborative and Competitive Grants and the Great Start Readiness Grant.

Federal grants include AmeriCorps and Pathways Grants.

MARESA is also budgeting $600,000 in property taxes for the 2012-2013 school year.

Budgeted general fund expenditures total $11.6 million.

With $10.1 million budgeted for the 2012-2013 special education fund, MARESA has budgeted $10.2 million in expenditures, including $8.3 million of support to local districts. That includes $6.6 million of cash payments and $1.7 million of direct special education services to the 13 districts, including direct professional services.

Most of the revenue in the special education budget comes in the form of property taxes, with the 2012-2013 budget planning for $5.5 million in property taxes. The budget also shows $3.3 million of grant revenue, including $3 million from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, $200,000 from the Preschool Grant and $100,000 from the Early On Grant.

Nardi said about 80 percent of the special education money MARESA receives goes directly to its 13 local school districts, either in the form of direct cash or direct services provided by MARESA.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is


A break down of services provided by the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency

Instructional Services

- curriculum improvement

- professional development and training

- career and technical education

- acts as homeless liaison

Business Services

- pupil accounting

- accounts payable

- audit preparation

- student data software management and training

- grants management

Special Education Services

- occupational therapy

- speech therapy

- physical therapy

- autism consultant

- behavioral specialist

- Early On services

- Transition services

Administrative Support and Partnership Services

- human resource support

- legal support

- board and superintendent relations

- strategic planning

- administrative roundtables

- community partnerships



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