Clarkston Schools budget debacle
Public has its say in planned school cuts
February 10, 2010 - Kara Marsac, Clarkston High School senior, stood and walked to the podium.
"I understand class sizes have to be raised," said Marsac, who is taking three advanced placement classes.
"Some of our highest level classes are smallest. I don't want the higher level of education to be cut because we had to make budget cuts."
She was one of hundreds filling Clarkston Junior High School auditoriun at Monday's Board of Education budget hearing.
"We are here tonight to not only stand up for our jobs, but our children," said bus driver Mike Morris. "We work here, we live here, we spend here. We have been told we are family but it's harder to get that into practice when times are tough."
Morris explained how when he was younger, his dad lost his job but the family maintained their lifestyle and fought past the tough times.
"He didn't go to my sister and say you are let go, you have to find a new family."
Morris extended an invitation for Superintendent Dr. Al Roberts to ride his bus one morning when he goes in at 6:30 a.m. or join him in the afternoon.
"I challenge you to come and see what money can't buy," Morris said.
Concerned parents, students and employees throughout the district listened to the recommendations to cut $13 million from the budget to get the district out of deficit.
Some included cutting 50 staff members, switching trimesters back to semesters, privatized busing, closing schools, or creating sister schools, in which elementaries close in proximity would split grades.
Many also wondered how the district got to this point and whether it could have been avoided.
"I think some decisions made in the past have not borne fruit for the district," said Brooke Davis, president of Clarkston Education Association. "I am not going to point a finger at any one person or one program. I think it is a combination of a lot of things. I don't think we could be $13 million over budget unless somebody made some mistakes."
Davis and Trustee Joan Patterson do not believe the fault is from the state legislature alone.
"The state has not cut us that much," said Davis. "Only $165 per pupil equaling $1.2 million. One million and $13 million do not equal."
"When you get into these kinds of situations, it's time to really look at what we are doing," said Patterson. "You can't blame it on the state."
Patterson also thought back to decisions the board made at the beginning of the school year, such as approving Fast ForWord and Superintendent Dr. Albert Roberts' salary increase.
"I voted no on his salary," said Patterson. "I kept asking where was the money coming from because I couldn't see how we could have the money.
"For Fast ForWord, voting for it was difficult. I voted for it so the students could have it," she continued. "I was uncomfortable about Fast ForWord but they held up all the savings we were going to have."
Trustee Rosalie Lieblang also would have voted differently if she had known the effect it would have had four months later.
"We were told it wasn't going to be a problem," she said. "Now we know it isn't just a little problem it is a significant problem."
Administration took on the task of going through programs and ideas to make cuts throughout the school district. They created three scenarios, $300, $600 or $900 in state per pupil cuts for the next fiscal year.
Going line by line, administration and staff took into account program costs, how many students and staff affected, and if it fit into existing curricula.
They considered a flat student count, 8,171 pupils, with no gains or lossess in the next fiscal year – even though one in 60 homes in the Clarkston Schools district is in foreclosure and families are moving out.
"The reason for it is because of the innovative programs we have implemented," said President Steve Hyer. "All Day Kindergarten, Advanced Studies Program, Young Five's program, CSMTech, International Baccalaureate (IB) – these programs are bringing students into the district. It has really boosted our enrollment."
CSMTech, Advanced Studies and IB are offered as School of Choice programs, although Clarkston as a district is not – students not in the district can attend those programs.
The board will also look at how the cuts will affect the district in years to come.
"We need to make sure, in the long run, we are doing what is best for the kids," said Patterson. "We have to make sure all K-12 programs are strong and we aren't weakening some of the earlier grade levels."
Davis is concerned with how teachers can provide the same quality of service with less staff and programs.
"There is no way we can run our district the same or can we have the same district we consider ourselves," said Davis. "It can't happen. Everybody is going to be working extra hard. We will not have the time to do the things we have always done to make sure we are a world-class school district."
The changes will send a ripple effect into the years to come.
"In the next five years, we could be partnering with outside entities like universities and online services because we won't be able to deliver the services," said Davis.
"Making these significant number of cuts is still disturbing to me," said Lieblang. "Waterford is in the news all the time and they are making a $1.6 million cut. We have to make a $13 million cut."
The district plans to hold community hearings to hear concerns and answer questions for the public.
The date has yet to be determined and will be posted on www.clarkston.k12.mi.us and www.ClarkstonNews.com.
Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.