Source: Sherman Publications

Public speaks on school budget

by Phil Custodio

May 01, 2013

As Clarkston schools consider how to close a $3.8 million budget deficit, residents were split at a public hearing, April 22.

The school district faces a $3.8 million deficit due to decreasing state and federal revenues, decreased enrollment, and increased costs. About 15 residents spoke at the hearing at Clarkston Junior High School.

Lisa Boor of Independence Township said open enrollment is a short-sighted solution.

“I do not believe that is the best option available – the long term needs to be considered,” Boor said.

Alternatives to consider include allowing current students at the district’s Funshine preschool, already an open-enrollment program, and the children of part-time Clarkston employees to enroll with the district, she said.

Pamela Koczak of Independence Township was concerned open enrollment would be a short-sighted solution.

“I do not believe that is the best option available – the long term needs to be considered,” Boor said.

Alternatives to consider include allowing current students at the district’s Funshine preschool, already an open-enrollment program, and the children of part-time Clarkston employees to enroll with the district, she said.

Pamela Koczak of Independence Township was concerned open enrollment would contribute to large classes with less attention from the teacher per student.

Stacy Swick of Independence Township said the increase may be offset by students pulled out of the district in favor of private school by parents concerned about open enrollment.

“I don’t see this as one of better options,” Swick said.

Beth Rogers of Independence Township encouraged the board to approve open enrollment.

“One hundred students across 63 classrooms is about two per class – not devastating,” Rogers said. “If parents are willing to transport their children to Clarkston, that shows they want a better education for them – that’s the kind of parents we want in Clarkston.”

Amanda Richie, who lives just outside the district in Orion Township, sends her child to Funshine and would benefit from expanded open enrollment.

“We’re just so happy with the teachers and staff – they’re so great and welcoming,” Richie said.

Jennifer Marlinga of Waterford would also like to participate.

“We’d love an opportunity to become part of Clarkston schools, if you allow us,” Marlinga said. “Most parents who want to be involved would work hard to be part of the community.”

Susan Joseph of Independence Township said open enrollment would benefit the district.

“Before we start laying off teachers, we should try everything possible – I’d hate to lose good teachers,” Joseph said.

Elaine Pepara of Davisburg said teacher layoffs cause a ripple effect through the district.

“The initial ripple affects the teachers – it’s very stressful to them and their families,” Pepara said. “The greatest ripple is to the children, whose teacher may go on to another business. I hope you consider the ripples you create and the effects this has on children.”

David Bernier of Independence Township said the district is only as good as its employees.

“They make the schools,” Bernier said. “People are important. Where are the costs coming from – take a look at those costs, not pink slips to everybody.”

Sue Cox of Springfield Township said she and her fellow bus drivers provide better service than a privatized company.

“We were asked three years ago to take a big cut and we did – we stepped up to plate,” Cox said. “They’re our children – if you privatize it, they wouldn’t care as much.”

Mel Vaara of Clarkston said the district tried privatizing services before, and it didn’t work.

“I think you need to talk to the people in Lansing – they aren’t pro education like they should be,” Vaara said.

The school board is considering three recommendations by administration – limited open enrollment in grades K-2, no transportation provided and limited by space available; operating a charter school offsite; and increased sharing of staff with private schools.

The steps are temporary, said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.

“Homes are being built in this community, but they need time to naturally offset budget increases,” Rock said. “Constriction is not in the best long term interests of the community.”

Current open-enrollment programs in Clarkston include CSMtech, IB, Project Lead the Way, Renaissance High School, and the Early Childhood Center. State funding is $7,082 per pupil, the same as 2005, said Deputy Superintendent Shawn Ryan.

The district’s fund equity was more than $16 million in 2005, about $10 million in 2010, and about $3.8 million by this June.

“We’re getting to that position where we’re really kind of at the end of road,” Ryan said. “I’m hopeful, looking at rising home values and economic data, Michigan is coming back.”

Administration’s budget plan to make up the deficit includes equal parts spending reductions; new revenue from outside the district; and savings in employee benefits, insurance, and other human-resource costs.

The school board asked administration to also look at privatizing some services, cutting or reducing transportation, and other measures. Closing an elementary school could save about $460,000; combining schools or programs, $140,000; privatize custodial services, $600,000-$1.2 million; privatizing busing, $270,000-300,000; eliminate transportation, up to $1.86 million.

These are not recommended by administration, Rock said.

For more information, call 248-623-5400 or check www.clarkston.k12.mi.us.