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School board members focus on operations

March 26, 2014 - Part 4 on Clarkston schools' new five-year Strategic Plan is on its third focus area, Operations.

The Strategic Plan's third focus area, Operations, is all about school buildings, grounds, busing, equipment, and everything else needed to make the district run.

"Now that we have a Strategic Plan, it provides a standard process for us to understand the district's needs from a priority perspective and to consciously plan how to fund these needs during the budget process," said board President Rosalie Lieblang. "Rather than determining how to spend the money after the budget is allocated, we want a rolling 2-3 year plan with priorities across the district."

Administration presented a list of Critical Administrative Priorities at Monday's school board meeting, including more teachers to lower class size, technology, and up to $800,000 in capital projects, such as parking lots and building upgrades.

"The next step is to create our operational plan for the 2014-2015 year, then build the budget to support the plan," Lieblang said.

"The school board has responsibility for oversight of the spending of taxpayer's money and resources the public expects the school board to be involved," said board Treasurer Joan Patterson.

The strategic plan provides the board with a prioritized technology and operations list by year, which it didn't get before, Lieblang said.

"Previously, the board would approve a total to spend at a macro level, both for operations and technology, then during the year, the administration would decide how to spend the money," Lieblang said. "When we do the operational plan and corresponding budget in the March-April time frame for the next school year, we will be able to see the priorities across the district and make some decisions on what we can fund."

With the district fund reserve budgeted at around five percent, the board must be financially prudent, said board Secretary Craig Hamilton.

"We have to ensure that sound decisions are being made since there is little room in the fund reserve for us to make errors," Hamilton said. "The last thing I want is for the state to take over our district because of financial mismanagement."

"We are putting more emphasis on planning and having a multi-year view than we did in the past," Lieblang said. "This is necessary because there could be larger projects such as roofs, etc., that may require more planning before it can be funded."

Hamilton said the board should be very active in the decision making process, but does not get information in a timely way from administration when requested.

"Since I have been elected, the relationship between the board and the administration has been like a couple going through a divorce," he said. "When information is asked for, you get specifically what you ask for, only what you ask for, and then it seems only if there is not a reason to say 'no,' or that it isn't easily available."

One example was a question about a $2,500 expense listed on the district check ledger to Sprint, he said.

"I was told it was for cell phones. I then had to ask for a list of who had district owned and paid for cell phones," he said. "This request took several weeks and reminders before I got the list."

Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock has many difficult decisions to make as far as where limited funds will be spent, Hamilton said.

"I would like to see the fund balance improved so we are not in such dire straits, but after that, I am interested to see what Dr. Rock recommends as far as technology improvements, raises for our staff who haven't gotten them in multiple years, infrastructure repairs and maintenance that have been put off longer than we would like, and lower class sizes, more teachers and/or more aids," the board secretary said.

Technology upgrades are important, "but we need to have a plan and move forward with a plan, not just piece it together as we are currently doing," he said.

Board Trustee Cheryl McGinnis did not provide a response to questions regarding the Strategic Plan. However, she said at Monday's meeting she doesn't see where administration can do better on the budget.

"For the board to sit here and micromanage every dollar it's sending the wrong message to Mary Beth (Rogers, business services executive director)," McGinnis said.

Priority 3 strategies include short-and long-term facilities and equipment plans, assessment of all buildings and grounds, and collaboration with neighboring districts, municipalities, and governments on energy and other programs to save or increase revenue.

Next week, focus area 4 of the Strategic Plan Finance.

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