Source: Sherman Publications

School employees keep packing board meetings

May 18, 2011

By Joe St. Henry

Special Writer for The Review

Impassioned Lake Orion school district employees gave the Board of Education pieces of their mind at the last week’s meeting.

Several took the podium to voice their concerns with proposed cuts to teachers, counselors, staff associates, secretaries and bus drivers for the 2011-12 school year.

Each person, emboldened by a packed house of supporters, described how the elimination of positions would negatively impact students. There was plenty applause.

The comments solidified trustee Bob Gritzinger’s view of how important it is to engage all parties impacted by the budget.

“We must continue to listen to the input of the school staff and others in our community, and then make the best call from there,” he said, referring to June 8 when the board finalizes the 2011-2012 budget.

Judging by the attentiveness of the board members, the speakers got an “A” for their efforts.

“We take on a huge responsibility to assure the safety of students,” said bus driver Diane Harbin, who added most district buses are filled to capacity each day. “Not only do we have to deal with the traffic, but also quickly address problems on the bus. It’s not an easy job.”

Setting boundaries for behavior on the playground and lunch room is part of Lori Tartoni’s job as a staff associate at Paint Creek Elementary School. She spends most of her time, however, helping kids with their clothes, lunches, bathroom breaks and occasional illnesses.

“I’m against parent volunteers doing this job because there will be a lack of consistency in the supervision,” she told the Board. “The idea of principals helping in this role also has been brought up, but I think there are better uses of their time.”

Pam Fine, an Oakview counselor, is one of only four certified coordinators of the Olweus Bully Prevention Program in the state. She helped spearhead the school’s Bully Busters program, featuring high school role models -- many of whom were in attendance.

Fine joined the district last fall and was informed her job would be eliminated in June. She told the board she will to return to Cincinnati, which drew a hush from the crowd. “This has been the greatest year of my career,” Fine said. “Please find a way to keep these bully prevention programs in place after I leave.”

The public remarks came before the board shared the latest information on state budget cuts impacting public education.

According to Superintendent Marion Ginopolis, between the reductions in per pupil spending, lost funding due to a projected decrease of 20 district students and other adjustments, revenue from the state will be reduced by approximately $3.9 million next year.

Expenses including pension fund obligations and healthcare costs will go up but, without a teacher contract in place, the question is, to what extent? Current projections indicate an expense increase of approximately $4.5 million. The district is currently slated to save $605,000, primarily due to the middle school reorganization and re-payment of Early Childhood Program expenses.

In order to maintain a 13.6 percent Fund Balance -- essentially working capital to pay salaries and other day-to-day expenses -- the district would need to make $7.7 million in budget cuts for next year. Ginopolis said the district may adjust the Fund Balance downwards, to between 11-11.5 percent. This would equate to a budget reduction next year of around $6.5 million.

“This is the lowest Fund Balance percentage we can go to prevent needing to borrow money to make payroll during the first half of the school year,” said Board Treasurer Jim Weidman.

Ginopolis said the district will launch a comprehensive review of all of processes to become more efficient and reduce costs, starting with the central administrative offices, this week.

She said all district employees need to make sacrifices. “Until this is done, there will be layoffs,” she said. “We need to work as a team to help avoid people losing their jobs. It’s time we all step up to the plate.”

According to Ginopolis, administrative personnel have already accepted a three percent salary reduction and five percent increase in their healthcare contribution.

The budget discussion closed with the Superintendent reminding the audience that while millions of dollars in cuts to the District budget are inevitable, the situation is still very fluid.

“None of our proposed budget cuts are set in stone -- they are just recommendations,” she said. “We haven’t made any final decisions. Everything is open for review during the discussion phase.”

The next Board meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, May 25.

Other news from the Board meeting:

Treasurer Jim Weidman adamantly recommended the Board exercise its right under election law to request an impartial review of the charges Oakland County billed Lake Orion Community Schools for its assistance in conducting the February bond election. He said the $43,000 in expenses were gexuberant and way out of line h with what was expected, considering similar elections in the past were ran for as little as $4,000. Weidman added the County fs explanations for the charges were inadequate. Board President Mary Jo Burchart said, gnot a penny will be paid to anyone until we get some answers. h