April 30, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- Declining enrollment has plagued the district for several years now, but as the school board enters the final weeks of planning next year's budget, a new challenge looms— the lack of a sinking fund.
Such a fund would pay for building repairs and maintenance and unlike recent years, there will be no leftover money from the $73 million bond voters passed in 2006 to rely on.
"Next year is the first year there will be no bond money available," said Jan Meek, executive director of finance, at the finance committee meeting April 28. "The bond replaced a lot of infrastructure things... Mark (Evans, lead maintenance for the district) and I have talked and we can't think of anything (in immediate need of repair or replacement)."
The district was recently "surprised" by the news they will have to spend an estimated $150,000 to install a sewer injection system at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School this summer, replacing the current septic system.
Superintendent Lorrie McMahon said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is mandating the replacement.
"What we have there now is old and before it starts leaking— which could happen at any time— it has to be re-placed," McMahon said. "They said it has to be done as soon as possible."
John Jacobson, an engineer hired for consultation on the district's wastewater treatment systems, recommended the sewer injection system, which could last for up to 20 years. The system will be paid for out of the general fund budget.
McMahon and other district officials are hopeful that the Village of Ortonville will eventually put in sewers, because without them, other buildings in the district, including the high school, middle school, Harvey Swanson Elementary and the Belle Ann building, will also eventually need sewer injection systems and the middle and high schools will be "a lot more expensive."
DEQ has issued a 5-year permit for the wastewater treatment system currently serving both BHS and BMS, but has told McMahon that at the end of the five years, the district will need to do "something entirely different."
"The DEQ is talking about a lagoon system, but that will require a lot of land," she said. "We have land, but it would have to be right here at the middle school and high school and any flat land here is being used for athletics, so it's not a great situation."
McMahon said Evans' evaluation of the current condition of district buildings has found no major projects on the horizon.
"There is always upkeep and maintenance, but except for the septic system, there aren't big things that need to be done," she said. "The heating systems are good, no roof problems... There is the pool roof, but it's not going to blow away anytime soon."
Despite declining enrollment— administrators expect a loss of another 150 students this fall— no major cuts to the budget are anticipated.
"There will be a reduction of about five teachers," McMahon said. "I don't expect them to be lay-offs necessarily— they can be done with attrition and we have subs in a couple places... We don't have places to cut anymore— we have reduced teaching, administrative, and support staff, so we just try to do more things efficiently and we reconfigured buildings. We're not worried about deficit balance this year, because the teachers took a huge reduction (7.5 percent wage cut last year). It will become difficult again in time if we don't get enrollment and have reduced per-pupil funding."
The preliminary budget for 2014-2015 has proposed revenue of $26,905,865 and expenditures of $27,098,846. The deficit of almost $193,000 would be taken from the general fund balance, leaving it at about 6 percent, or $1,680,594.
Also proposed for the budget is a $150,000 line item for new curriculum purchases. When the district had to start slashing items from the budget due to the downturn in the economy, curriculum was one of the items cut. The school board recently approved the purchase of $175,000 in new math curriculum, and next on the list will be social studies and science curriculum, said McMahon, who joked at the finance committee meeting that she wasn't sure if George Bush was included in the U.S. History books. She didn't specify which former president she was referring to— the father or the son.
"A lot of things are online now, so it's different than it used to be," McMahon said. "We pay for subscriptions to websites, but it's still dollars and cents. If adding curriculum is possible, we'll see when and exactly what is needed and make a plan. It should be on a cycle where content every year is reviewed and the need for new materials is decided."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville