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Letter to the Editor


School board responsible for budget



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February 10, 2010 - Dear Editor,

The Clarkston School District presented the following Budget information at their last meeting. Revenue for 2007-2008 was $77.6 million, expenses were $76.2 million. Revenue for 2009-2010 is $81.9 million while expenses have ballooned to $88.3 million. So revenue has risen by $4.3 million, thanks mostly to temporary Federal Stimulus, while expenses have risen by $12.1 million.

There is a projected deficit in this 2009-2010 fiscal year's budget of $6.38 million, and a projected budget deficit of $13.0 million in fiscal year 2010-2011. The fiscal problem is not caused solely by the combined loss of $433 per student over 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.

The key expenses which have risen over the last three years are salaries, increased $4.64 million, 10.6 percent; fringe benefits increased $2.5 million, 12.3 percent; and capital outlay, increased by $3.97 million. The other expenses account only for $985,810 of the $12,092,925 increase over the last three years. Salaries, fringe benefits and capital outlay make up 91.85 percent of the increase. I believe the capital outlay is mostly a school bus lease back transaction, which can be eliminated.

The superintendent's administration didn't understand the implications of the 3.42 percent annual increases in salaries over the last three years, nor the 3.93 percent annual increases in fringe benefit expenses. Administration did not get a clause in the labor contract which would reopen and adjust the contract if revenue fell.

Administration had no qualms about depleting almost half of the $14 million Equity (rainy day) Fund in 2009-2010, with a budget deficit twice as large as that of 2009-2010, now projected for 2010-2011. How could any capable superintendent not see this radical fiscal shift from a $1.4 million surplus in 2007-2008, to a combined revenue shortfall of $21 million over the 2008-2009, $1.6 million; 2009-2010, $6.4 million; and 2010-2011, $13 million?

Each and every board member, not just the two newest members and Ms. Joan Patterson, must take responsibility for personally understanding the financial implications of the decisions they have to make over the next couple of months.

Unfortunately, Superintendent Roberts doesn't seem to perceive school board members as a resource of seven individuals who can apply themselves to solving this fiscal issue if he reaches out and includes them in decision making.

To come to an informed decision, board members must ask questions, demand accurate information, and discover criteria for evaluating each and every proposed spending cut. Board members must pursue this information even if scorned by the superintendent and colleagues as lacking respect or trust. It's their responsibility to make an informed decision, and they must use their authority to ascertain data and criteria for cutting expenses.

Ultimately, the board must remember they are responsible for providing an educational product to consumers, children and parents in the district. If the Clarkston educational product becomes inferior, through larger class sizes, shorter school years, fewer services and programs, many consumers will find a substitute for the public schools, which will lead to a downward spiral.

The solution lies in choosing a curriculum which is world class, i.e. 200 school days, class sizes in the very low 20's, offering programs and services such as art, music, foreign languages, sports, and clubs, which enrich the educational experience of each student, then determining how much the district can afford for labor and fringe benefits. The district cannot make any commitments which are fiscally unsupportable in short run, wages and benefits, or are an unsound burden in the long run pension benefits.

Jeff Gibbs

Independence Township

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