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Weaver new to the board, not to the block

School board appoints Walters' replacement

June 30, 2010 - And then there was one: Kelly Weaver.

Lake Orion Board of Education voted in Weaver to fill a vacant seat on the board at their June 23 meeting, 5-1. Treasurer Jim Weidman cast the dissenting vote.

Weaver will serve from now until the remainder of former President Bill Walters' term, ending in 2011. Walters' last meeting was May 26; he is now retired.

Weaver says she's lived in Lake Orion for 12 years and has been a substitute teacher in the district for seven years. She has a daughter at Stadium Drive and a son at Scripps.

Weaver's volunteered with the Lake Orion Education Foundation (LOEF) in several different capacities, including serving as the current president. During candidate introductions, she said her goal is to help build a consensus, beginning with students and building to parents, teachers, staff and board, "that we can move forward and leave all the negativity behind."

Weaver said finances are obviously the biggest hurdle for the district right now, and though she hasn't had much experience in creating and implementing one, the math major says she's "not afraid of numbers."

"I'm coming to it as a parent, as an educator and as a community member realizing that these numbers represent people and kids," she said. Weaver also noted, "I think that if we do that and come together as a unit a unified group, not a divided group using every bit of input that we receive, we can meet those challenges," she said.

Weaver said bringing "disenfranchised parents and community members" back on board and utilizing resources already in the community marks the way forward.

Boardmember Janet Wolverton threw her support behind Weaver, listing Weaver's extensive involvement in the district and her perspective of looking at the district "from the inside, out" as reasons why.

Board Vice President Mary Jo Burchart said she like Weaver's idea to work on communication with the community.

"Kelly has been involved in so many different things that she has feelers all over the community. That would be an asset," she said.

School cuts mean program changes

One school board meeting and one multi-million dollar juggling act later, Lake Orion Community Schools has an approved budget.

To cover revenue shortfalls and rising costs, the district carved $2.1 million from programming and staffing, took around $3 million from fund balance and hopes to take $2 million from unioned staff salaries and benefits, but the amount is still in negotiations, according to school officials.

Cuts come as a result of rising insurance and retirement rates, a $165 per-student reduction in state funding, 40 fewer students district-wide and dwindling American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds, according to Jillynn Keppler, assistant superintendent of administrative services.

What does that mean for parents and students?

"Ultimately, it equates to a change in the program that Lake Orion's been accustomed to," said Jim Weidman, school board treasurer. "While we want to see what being creative can do to address some of these things and minimize the impact for students, when you reducing the funding available for schools, you have to reduce programs to cover those costs."

Changing the high school's current block schedule to a modified block made up of longer and shorter ("skinny") class periods, saves the district, $576,000 and comes with the reduction of 10 staff. Just over 50 staff took the early retirement incentive, saving $448,000. And reducing special education staff by what Director Julie Stucky says will be "less than six," will save $288,000.

Other savings will come from reducing 12-month secretaries to 11-month ($27,200), upping afterschool fees ($52,000), coordinating purchasing ($15,000), changing police liaison services ($61,000), utilizing distance learning for class overloads ($78,000), eliminating the high school media assistant ($26,400), combining Community Education and Guided Activities Program ($57,000), and other changes in staffing ($48,000).

"I think the (cuts) the finance committee arrive at were thought through pretty well and will have less impact on students than whatever it will cost in the next round of reductions," said Weidman, adding, "But I think we've run out of those things that will have minimal impact on students."

Keppler said taking $3.1 million from fund balance will bring the fund to 12.3 percent of yearly expenditures. The amount is well below her recommended 15 percent, but at the board's March 26 meeting, Keppler said a 12 percent level kept the district from having to borrow in the past for payroll or emergency needs.

"Somewhere right in there that's our tipping point. If we're looking at having to borrow even half of what our fund balance would be, you get into the millions pretty quickly and we're talking about $50,000 [in interest] per million. That's where we want to be careful," she said.

That's exactly what Weidman says he's afraid of.

"At that level (in fund balance), there's a good chance that we will need to borrow money to cover some of our expenses prior to receiving funding from the state. It's the interest we'd have to pay that would really be money ill spent. Whatever we pay in interest is not budgeted and it's an additional expense," he said.

Looking forward, Keppler said difficult times lie ahead, with ARRA funds and fund balance no longer playing a significant role in the budget.

"In order to align expenditures with revenues, we must continue to address the salary and benefits that make up 85 percent of the expenditures budget," she said.

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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