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Discussion delayed on budget cuts

January 26, 2011 - A year ago this week, a $13 million school budget deficit stunned school board members and residents.

Not this year – Clarkston School Board's Jan. 24 meeting was canceled by board President Steve Hyer.

"There are no budget recommendations at this time, so delaying the conversation will not impact our process or time line," said Hyer in an email, Jan. 21.

Board members disagreed.

"I was very surprised that the Jan. 24 regular board meeting was canceled," said board Treasurer Rosalie Lieblang. "We, as board members, were not contacted and asked whether we felt the meeting should be canceled or not."

The board could have discussed long-and short-term district goals and strategy, technology updates, bullying, and many other issues, said board Secretary Joan Patterson.

"I thought we had a lot to do," Patterson said. "The more times we can meet and discuss updates, how to set up the district, all of these important pieces, the better."

Hyer said the cancellation was also due to the absence of Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.

"In this case, because our new superintendent was unable to attend and there were no pressing action items needing board approval, it seemed that canceling made the most sense," Hyer said.

Rock is in Washington D.C. this week, attending the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy conference hosted by ASCD, formerly Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

"Having a budget discussion without Dr. Rock's perspective and leadership during this time of change seemed less than optimal," Hyer said.

The board could have discussed district Finance Committee's recommended budget reductions, as well as budget parameters showing if it doesn't make further reductions, the district will run out of fund equity by 2013, Lieblang said.

"Unfortunately, we still have over a $6 million deficit that must be solved," she said. "As treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee, I believe it is important for the board to provide clear direction to the administration on any expected budget reduction amount as soon as possible."

Also, the district is planning a community survey in early February – Jan. 24 was the board's last chance to discuss the survey before it happens.

"I was hoping the board would have the opportunity to identify topics that we would like to collect some additional information on," she said. "While it would be nice to have the superintendent at all of our board meetings, sometimes it isn't possible. We have had board meetings in the past without the superintendent present."

Other board business included policy readings and approvals, and reviewing December financial information, she said.

"Our Finance Department worked very hard to get the December Financial Reports ready for this meeting," Lieblang said.

However, due to a minor surgery, the district's business director was out for most of the week, Hyer said.

"It seemed that rushing to get all the materials in place in order to have a quality discussion was not possible," he said.

Board Vice President Sue Boatman said the district Policy Committee needs to revisit the bylaw on canceling a regular meeting.

"It is my belief that best practices would not allow for one board member to have the power to cancel a meeting," Boatman said. "Under a worst case scenario, someone might cancel a meeting to avoid having a topic brought up in public. While that is not the case in this situation, with board discussion, the entire board would have been made aware of the many agenda topics that were ready for discussion on the 24th."

According to existing bylaws, regular meeting can only be changed by a board resolution.

"I consider a meeting cancellation to be a change," Lieblang said. "I'm disappointed that one person made the decision to cancel the meeting without any input from the rest of the board."

Hyer pointed out district bylaws state school board must have at least one board meeting per month, which was accomplished Jan. 10.

The board's next regular is Feb. 14, and budget reduction recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the board at its Feb. 28 meeting. The school board meets at 7 p.m. at Clarkston Community Schools Administration Building, 6389 Clarkston Road.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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