December 07, 2011 - Dear Editor,
The most recent few years have been, as you know, difficult ones for many school districts in Michigan including Clarkston Community Schools.
Revenue has continued to decline and, as a result, CCS has been required to significantly trim operating expenses, although those expenses could not be responsibly reduced quickly enough to match revenue reductions, resulting in the district having to continue to draw down its fund equity to below-recommended levels.
The district has also found itself in the position of borrowing from the state to meet repayment obligations of previously issued bonds.
Wages and benefits account for more than 85 percent of general fund expenditures. In fiscal 2012, the district will be required to borrow money to pay for its operating expenses. Technology resources are dated and, if planning for it hasn't already begun, aging school buildings will require significant capital for repairs and modernization.
With home prices depressed and many people unemployed or underemployed, increasing taxes by floating a new bond issue would be difficult at best. The administrative staff is fully occupied with the day-to-day operation of the district in what can only be described as a challenging environment. Resources are stretched and there appear to be few solutions.
While these adverse conditions present a significant challenge to the board, there exists an opportunity for the board to rise to that challenge by utilizing untapped resources it has at its disposal: involve community members and take advantage of their knowledge and experience to seek innovative solutions.
That can be accomplished by forming an advisory committee comprised of district residents along with a member of the finance department staff and led by a member of the board.
The objective of this committee would be to create a financial plan that in the short term rebuilds fund equity while in the long term supports the efforts of the district to achieve its vision.
The committee would accomplish this by searching for revenue enhancement opportunities; exploring ways to further reduce expenses without negatively impacting the classroom; and identifying any leaks, areas where money may be being spent needlessly.
This would require the committee to become thoroughly familiar with the district's policies and financials, conduct ongoing searches for additional revenue, review operations of CCS and other districts to determine best practices, then analyze that information and develop recommendations for its committee chair to bring to the full board.
While I am sure that district residents are fully engaged managing their own circumstances, I am equally positive that, given the importance of educating our students, some community members would be willing and able to volunteer time to assist the district.
There is a great deal of talent in the community waiting for its potential to be used. The board needs to take advantage of that talent and do so with a sense of urgency.
The district's vision cannot be accomplished without a viable financial plan that maintains the district's solvency and credit rating. Continuing to draw down the fund equity is neither a feasible nor a sustainable strategy.
There is a saying in business that a successful company wins in the turns. The Michigan economy has been, and continues to be, in a hairpin curve.
This is the board's opportunity to use the resources at its disposal to successfully negotiate that curve and leave a legacy of financial well-being to the school district so that future boards can continue to achieve the district's vision.