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Ginopolis responds to bond questions

Guest column by LOCS Interim Superintendent Marion Ginopolis

January 26, 2011 - A recent letter to the editor appeared in The Lake Orion Review with questions addressed to the Lake Orion School District specific to financial responsibility and inquiries related to the upcoming February 22 bond election. In an ongoing effort to provide accurate information to our community and to respond directly to these questions, I present the following:

Why haven't you eliminated all-day kindergarten?

While the State did not mandate all-day kindergarten, they have continued to shift academic benchmarks to earlier grade levels. All-day kindergarten is crucial to our students meeting the rigor of this advanced time line. Research studies, supported by anecdotal comments from staff and parents, provide evidence that, relative to half-day programs, full day kindergarten is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, including increased student achievement and social and behavioral development.

Initial district assessments of children who have participated in this program confirm our decision to retain this program. Because the program is relatively new, we will continue to gather data and evaluate the effect the program has on our children's academic and social/behavioral development.

Why two elections?

The issue of school elections has many facets beyond the cost, including:

Conducting the election in February allowed the district to qualify for low interest bonds (Qualified School Construction Bonds) which would not have been the case if the election were scheduled for May. This resulted in our ability to lower the millage rate from 1.75 mills to 1.6 mills and reduce the length of the bond term from 25 years to a combination of 18 and 10 years.

Scheduling the bond election in February results in a dramatically lower financial impact than it would if the election were scheduled for May. (1.6 mills vs. 5.509 for the same amount of bond dollars).

With five board vacancies, conducting the School Board election this year in May better serves the district so that Board members can begin their responsibilities at the beginning of the school year rather than in the middle of a school year which would occur if the election were held in November. This decision may be revisited for future elections.

Discussion continues between the Orion Township Clerk and the district related to cost containments for elections.

Why wasn't a grant writer hired and what grant money was pursued first before asking for bond money?

Rather than create another position, the responsibility to pursue grants has been assumed by existing staff members who continuously seek grant opportunities to offset expenses in a number of general fund areas.

For the current school year we have already received close to $1 million in grant dollars with an additional $5.7 million budgeted for the remainder of 2010-2011 for a total of $6.6 million in grant funds available for 2010-2011.

Grants have specific requirements and often are based on performance deficits; due to Lake Orion achievement we do not qualify for many of these. Available grants most often prohibit supplanting - replacing dollars currently being spent with grant dollars.

Grants are typically available to initiate and continue new programs; not for the purpose of purchasing capital outlay items included in our bond projects such as purchasing buses, facility improvements, or creating a wireless environment.

What is the status of collaboration with the Township?

Multiple ways to collaborate with the Township and Village on mutually beneficial cost savings have been explored and discussions are continuing.

Thus far, only minimal cost savings have been identified - not due to lack of effort, but rather due to the already streamlined efforts of all parties.

What reductions have been made at central office/administration?

Between 2000 and 2011, the district has reduced expenses by over $15 million.

A specific itemization of these reductions appears on the district website. and includes both central office and building level staff.

Based on work load (in part driven by continued increasing State and grant reporting requirements) and previous reductions, full staff replacement was necessitated.

What is the impact on a property owner?

$160 per $100,000 assessed value is solely an example that is used to illuminate the method that the millage is calculated and the impact on individual home/property owners. Clearly, if a community member's property value is greater, the amount assessed will be higher. A tax estimate calculator is available on the district website.

What is the actual debt levy increase?

The current school debt levy is 7.491 mills. An increase of 1.6 mills results in a school debt levy of 9.09 mills; a 21.3 percent increase.

Based on the statues that govern qualified school bonds and the current downward trend of property tax values, this is the financial structure available to the district. We have made the best of the situation by qualifying for the QSCB bonds.

In closing, we clearly have a fiscal responsibility to this community, one we take very seriously and one we have and will continue to meet. However, despite the budget and financial limitations and boundaries within which we must operate, our greatest responsibility is to educate the children of this community and to prepare them for the world they join after they leave our district. Our current technology structure is creating lost opportunities for educating our students to become 21st century learners and, along with much needed safety, repair and facility improvements has led us to the request for a $25.5 million bond on February 22.

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