Sharing ideas

Second in a series examining how decreasing school funding from the state affects Clarkston schools. In last week’s edition, we examined ideas for innovation presented at the Michigan Association of School Boards Conference, featuring Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling

Oxford is a fine school district, but when it comes to innovation, no one compares to Clarkston, school officials say.
‘IB (International Baccalaureate), Advanced Study, CSM Tech, Fast ForWord, foreign language ? we’re the envy of every school district,? said Superintendent Dr. Al Roberts. ‘I’m very proud of what we’re doing ? we’re doing good things here.?
Oxford was highlighted as a model school by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan at the annual Michigan Association of School Board conference, Oct. 23-24. Clarkston Board of Education trustees said they learned from those and other ideas presented.
‘It was interesting because they shared how some schools are implementing foreign language in the elementaries,? said Trustee Joan Patterson. ‘The interesting thing is even though we have less money, we still need to work on getting better.?
State funding cuts of almost $300 per student is a major challenge, said Trustee Rosalie Lieblang.
‘We are going to have to do more with less,? Lieblang said. ‘We can’t add staff so we need to look at other ways to try to ensure we have the highest level of education and opportunities in the state. One way is technology.?
One thing Clarkston teachers are doing is accepting concessions in their contracts, said Brooke Davis, president of Clarkston Education Association.
‘We thought the district needed some help, that it was the right thing to do at the time,? Davis said.
Teachers accepted a change in insurance, saving $800,000, and changed a two-percent raise to one-percent raises over two years, he said.
They anticipate more cuts, but probably not to the level of $1,000 per student, Roberts said.
‘That would cause the entire state educational system to fold,? he said.
‘A thousand is a lot ? I don’t think we’ll ever see that,? Davis said.
Oxford’s idea to cut pay-to-play charges for students has been considered, Patterson said.
‘Last year when we were talking about what we can do with fund equity, I asked, because of our economic times, was it time to take some of the fund equity and cut down the cost to join clubs and pay-to-play to help out the community,? Patterson said.
‘Michigan’s economy is still going down, so there will probably be another round of cuts,? Davis said. ‘The fund equity would allow the district to weather another year or two. After that will be some hard discussions. We’ll have to cut programs or staff ? we all understand that.?
Board President Stephen Hyer was unable to attend the conference but said he focuses on trimming expenses and looking at innovative programs.
‘If there is a new program out there that can help us deliver and help our kids, we are going to look at it,? he said.
Districts are looking at Clarkston’s energy conservation efforts, which have saved the district $800,000, Hyer pointed out.
When it does make cuts, the board tries to avoid impacting classrooms and teaching staff, he said.
‘We want to be creative in how we look at the budget issue but we also want to live within our means,? Hyer said.
Patterson said the board has not yet had the opportunity to discuss ideas from the conference and where they will cut – but Roberts has looked at where they can reduce.
‘We look at every line item in the budget,? Hyer explained. ‘We set some parameters in our administration goals and the board really rolls up their sleeves and looks at how we can deliver our programs more efficiently and more effectively.?
A few places: legal services, postage, fleet insurance, election supplies, gas/oil, conferences, and workers’ compensation, totalling $440,000.
“These are areas that we have not spent the full budgeted amount and believe we can reduce,” said Anita Banach, communications director.
The district plans to continue working through the budgeting process to find ways to handle state reductions of $165 per student at the beginning of October, and $127 more per student next year, totaling $292 per student.
‘It’s not a temporary problem and we have to find a long term solution both to the school aid funding and for the funds we get in Clarkston,? said Lieblang. ‘We have to see what is the best way to use those funds for the children.?
‘The community has made cuts in their own lives,? Patterson said. ‘They have had to make tough decisions and they are expecting us to do the same.?
Watch for specific changes in future additions. Phil Custodio contributed to this report.