Friday, June 24, 2016

Balanced budget for 2016-17 school year approved by LO Board of Education

I am pleased to report to our community that the Lake Orion Board of Education approved the District’s balanced budget for the 2016-17 school year at its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, June 22. As has been publicly discussed, the School District had to address a projected budget shortfall for next year primarily due to Michigan’s declining student enrollment and continued funding cuts from the State. In addition, insurance and retirement benefit costs continue to rise. 

WHAT HAS THE DISTRICT DONE TO ASSURE A BALANCED BUDGET FOR 2016-17? Over the past few months, the following measures have been taken to assure the Lake Orion School District has a balanced budget for the 2016-17 school year. (These have been referred to as Phase 1 reductions.) 
• Made district-wide personnel reductions 
• Secured salary concessions from District employees 
• Secured cost savings from various employee bargaining units 
• Changed healthcare and dental insurance plans to generate cost savings 
• Outsourced the technology department functions to Oakland Schools 
• Reorganized the District’s transportation department and made cost reductions 
• Restructured the District’s athletic department and made cost reductions 
• Partially restructured the District’s middle school program and staffing 
• Increased revenue through Schools-of-Choice and Shared Time Services 
• Explored privatization of transportation and food services. (After careful evaluation of both functions and reviewing vendors proposals, it was determined that any anticipated cost savings through privatization would not occur at this time. In addition, employee concessions were realized.) 

WHAT DO YOU ANTICIPATE AS REVENUE AND EXPENDITURES FOR 2016-17? The following summarizes our budgeted revenue and expenditures for next school year: 
o 2016 – 17 General Fund budgeted revenue $79,739, 204 
o 2016 – 17 General Fund budgeted expenditures $79, 583,268 
o Net operating surplus $155,936 

WHAT IS THE DISTRICT PLANNING IN PHASE 2 TO AVOID ANY POTENTIAL DEFICIT? Having now completed Phase 1, the next few months will target Phase 2 areas of alignment of facilities and improvement in efficiencies: 

• Maximizing building capacity, which will most likely involve closing and/or repurposing a school(s) 
• Redistricting our current students into the remaining schools 
• Revisiting the District’s program offerings and content to ensure that all students have enhanced curriculum opportunities. 

WHAT HAS THE DISTRICT DONE TO REDUCE ITS CURRENT DEBT? In addition to pursuing various ways to right size the School District and cut costs, the School District has actually reduced its debt significantly over the past five years. Much of the original debt incurred was from construction of four instructional buildings to accommodate the community's population growth in the 1990’s (Lake Orion High School, Paint Creek, Orion Oaks and Oakview.) 

• During this period, we have reduced outstanding voted and School Bond Loan Fund debt by $61.6 million. 
• The School District’s total estimated debt at the end of this month will be $125.7 million. 
• In addition, through a series of debt refinancing moves over the past four years by the School District, $16.2 million in savings and cost avoidance have been realized to the benefit of taxpayers. 


WHAT IS THE DISTRICT’S EXPECTED FUND BALANCE AT THE END OF 2016-17? Another key consideration to assure the financial health of the School District is the fund balance. The district auditors recommend and the School Board is committed to a fund balance of ten percent of total expenditures. In 2007, our fund balance stood at 18 percent. The financial challenges of recent years have forced us to use a portion of the fund balance to balance the budget. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, we project a budgeted fund balance of $5,858,602. This represents 7.4% of expenditures. Through continued careful budgeting and restructuring of the School District, we expect to return the fund balance to ten percent by 2018. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sinking Fund Election for Lake Orion School District

When Proposal A was passed by Michigan’s voters in 1994, homeowner property taxes were lowered, with the state gaining control of each public school district’s operating budget.  But Prop A’s passage kept districts in charge of maintaining their buildings and the State expects them to use local tax levies like building and site sinking funds and bond millages to address their facility needs.  With Orion Township’s population growing significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s, voters did pass bonds to primarily construct a number of new schools, but the District has never had a dedicated sinking fund to address long-term building repairs and equipment replacement.  

As a result, more than $40 million in building projects throughout the District have been put on hold over the past decade due to two failed bonds, budget constraints spurred by funding cuts, as well as ongoing healthcare and retirement cost increases, and our strong desire to keep academic programs intact.  But today, our buildings have reached a point where routine maintenance of aging systems and equipment is not effective and continuously trying to put a band-aid repair on items that need to be replaced just does not make fiscal sense.

Most people who live here agree our public school system is a strong point of pride and one of the key reasons people chose to live here.  Our school buildings, which average age of 40 years, represent more than $300 million in community assets.  They must be maintained for Lake Orion students today and tomorrow.  It is true our district’s enrollment has declined, requiring us to make some tough restructuring decisions in the near future, but we will still have school buildings to maintain.  They cannot be neglected. A building and site sinking fund is a financially responsible way to raise funding for these buildings, without burdening voters with the long-term debt and interest a bond millage incurs.  It also should be noted our District is not setting a precedent with the proposed sinking fund. More than one-third of the State’s public school districts are using them now to address their facility needs.  In fact, 12 of 28 districts in Oakland County have a sinking fund.  These include Bloomfield Hills, Huron Valley, Novi, Walled Lake and West Bloomfield, among others. 


As this community has grown and become an attractive place to live for so many people, so have the values of their homes.  For people in our community who have lived here for many decades, their home values have increased dramatically.  Our award-winning schools have played a key role in their appreciation.  Just as homeowners invest in maintaining their homes, the State expects communities like ours to keep their school buildings in shape.  I hope you recognize this and realize a building and site sinking fund tax levy is now the best way for Lake Orion to help assure our school facilities remain intact for many more decades to come. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Stay informed about Board of Education deliberations and decisions!

In my continued efforts to keep our community apprised of the Board and Administration discussions and deliberations regarding Future Planning and Budget/Enrollment issues, summaries of discussions and decisions made by the Board during their meetings and workshops are available on the District Website and can be accessed by CLICKING THIS LINK.  Resources distributed to the Board are also available.

Board meeting agendas, minutes and links to televised meetings/workshops can be accessed on the District Website by clicking the Board of Education pull-down menu at the top of the opening page of the Website.

It is important to keep in mind that a Board meeting (workshop) is a meeting of the Board in public; it is not a Public Meeting.  During the "Public Participation" portion of a meeting, audience members have the opportunity to speak to the Board.  However, the Board does not engage in a two-way dialogue during this time. Dialogue between the Board and district stakeholders occurs during public forums, community meetings, Board "coffees", Board attendance at PTO meetings and other such venues.  

However, as we move forward with our discussions about the financial status of our district and short/long term strategies that will affect the future of our district, the Board and Administration plan to conduct such forums so that all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide feedback to the Board and engage n a dialogue with the Board.  Dates/locations for these forums will be communicated in advance to the public.

In addition, and at any time, district stakeholders can email the Board with questions, concerns, opinions, etc. at  loboard@lakeorion.k12.mi.us   It is the Board of Education's practice to respond to all emails that include a verifiable full name, address and phone number.   

  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 - Reflections of a successful year

Although the school year is only halfway through, students, staff and programs have had many outstanding accomplishments and achievements throughout the 2015 calendar year. While far too many to list, some highlights representing the successes of the school district include:

A major highpoint this year was the completion of the high school’s rigorous evaluation from the AdvancED Accreditation Commission and was awarded Full Accreditation as a quality school.





Last spring, the Michigan Department of Education transitioned to a new statewide assessment program called the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP).  It was administered online and measured current student knowledge. The M-STEP assesses student learning on Michigan's standards in mathematics, English Language Arts (ELA), Science, and Social Studies.The MDE publicly released the spring 2015 M-STEP data and we are very pleased that Lake Orion Community Schools performed well above both the state and county averages for grades 3-11.  Of the 28 school districts in Oakland County, Lake Orion ranked: English Language Arts: 5th overall , Math: 7th overall, Science: 4th overall and Social Studies: 3rd overall.

In recognition of the innovation and success of LO’s Early Literacy Program, Lake Orion Community Schools was named a District of Distinction by District Administration Magazine in the inaugural round of this new national recognition program.


Two LOHS teachers received national recognition: LOHS Science Teacher, Andrea Brook, was selected as the recipient of the National Association of Biology Teacher's Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for Michigan and creative writing, British literature and English teacher, Joshua Hosler, is one of only thirteen educators nationwide to win the 2015 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.


Our district was selected to host three major conferences attended by hundreds of educators and parents throughout the county and state including the Michigan Association of Middle School Education statewide conference for more than 300 middle school level educators, administrators and higher educators, the Oakland County Great Start Conference for early childhood parents, and the Oakland County Best Practices Conference where participants learned from national experts and colleagues from around the county, state and Canada, showcasing a variety of proven best practices and timely issues in education.

Because of our outstanding arts program, it was a no-brainer for the Lake Orion district to be asked to join in a partnership with schools across Oakland and Macomb counties to create glass mosaics to be displayed at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan opening later this month in Troy.  As a part of the initiative, 18 schools, including LO’s three middle schools and the high school designed the murals, which are 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

Major kudos are in order for Dragon yearbook talented student journalists. The high school’s 2015 yearbook, Dragon Fever, received the All-American Award from the National Scholastic Press Association. The book was judged against yearbooks from throughout the United States and received the highest rating in the country earning five Marks of Distinction

LO High School Robotics Team 302 finished among the top ten schools at the Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association championship where students designed and built a robot to participate in this year’s competitive game called “8 Ball”.  At the county championship, Team 302 won two awards – Strategic Design and Simple Solution. At the elementary/middle level, LO Robotics Rebels finished 1st in the Robotics “Sharkfest Competition” and won a trophy for strategy and innovation.

Throughout the year, the LO music programs earn so many awards that they would fill this entire Blog.  To name a few…the Lake Orion HS Marching Percussion was named the 2015 WGI Percussion Scholastic A World Champions and for the fifth year in a row the Marching Band finished among the top five in the top flight at the Michigan Competing Band Association state finals.  High School and Middle School Choirs continued throughout the year to earn top marks at all festivals in which they competed.




So many of our students are recognized for their numerous accomplishments throughout the year.In addition to collective awards and without mentioning names, individual students were…

  • selected to the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band for the 3rd consecutive year
  • named to the 2015 Student Journalist Staff by the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association
  • honored for achieving high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to join the United States Marine Corp graduating at the top of the class
  • recognized for being named to the National Association for Music Education’s All-National Choir
  • selected to be one of twelve young environmentalist to become a part of the inaugural Sea Life Michigan Young Environmentalist panel
  • named this year’s Oakland County “Culinary Arts student”
  • selected as one of thirty outstanding graduates by the Detroit News in partnership with Sparky Anderson’s CATCH (Sparky Anderson's Charity for Children)
  • named the recipient of the inaugural 2015 Michigan High School Coaches Association Class A, Multi-Sport Athlete of the Year
  • chosen as one of two students statewide to receive the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation yearly scholarship

Throughout the various sports seasons, several of our student athletes have earned scholarships to play their sport at the next level.  Our sports teams have had outstanding seasons with the girls’ volleyball team posting the most wins in a season, the Dragon cross country teams qualified for state meets, the boys’ soccer team captured the OAA White league title for the first time in twelve years while the boys’ tennis team won the OAA White league championship. 

The girls’ golf team finished among the state’s best and the Lady Dragon swim team finished among the top ten in the state.  And, lastly, the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association named the Lake Orion Varsity Girls Cross Country Team the top Academic X-Country team in the state



More than 70 bus drivers for Lake Orion Community Schools completed a day-long training workshop at the district’s transportation headquarters. The bus drivers participated in educational sessions focusing on drug, alcohol and prescription drug awareness; transportation of special needs students; using EpiPens and basic first aid; and a review of emergency procedures with the Orion Township Fire Department.


Disclaimer:  Please forgive any exclusion of the many, many accomplishments of those not mentioned as there are far too many to cite.  This is intended to show just a few representations of a very successful 2015 year for Lake Orion Schools. 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

~~~Marion Ginopolis, Superintendent

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 21st Board Meeting - Summary

I want to thank all those who attended the December 21st Board of Education meeting at the Orion Center.  Your interest in the future of Lake Orion Community Schools is greatly appreciated. For members of our community who could not attend or watch on ONTV, I want to provide you with a summary of the discussions that took place and decisions made.  (You can also view this meeting in its entirety by clicking this link http://www.orionontv.org/education-access/)

Community member and parent Nate Butki, representing the 40-person Long-Range Planning Committee formed last spring, did an excellent job presenting its ideas for the Board’s consideration to change the district’s infrastructure and footprint in response to continued declining enrollment and state funding.  The Committee also presented ideas for improving the District’s financial situation.  There were a number of concepts introduced with some initial discussion among Board members and the District’s administrative leaders.  Some of these included:

·       Expansion of the district’s shared-time services program
·       Pursuit of a voter-approved building and site fund (sinking fund)
·       Privatization of transportation and other non-instructional services
·       Optimization of building usage
·       Change in the boundaries of school buildings
·       Revisiting of the focus school concept
·       Evaluation of building configurations
·       Aggressive promotion of district’s competitive attributes

The Board recognized the need for much more discussion, information and evaluation of the ideas presented before any changes are made.  A Board workshop is being scheduled in January to continue this process.  This workshop, like regular Board meetings, will be open to the public.   I want to stress that while some of the changes being discussed could be implemented as quickly as the start of the 2016-17 school year, most of them will involve significant planning and community engagement with a rollout over the next couple of years.

The other major discussion during the meeting focused on our $1.9 budget deficit for the current school year.  After an overview of why this materialized, a number of reductions were presented to the Board to help balance the budget.  These reductions could have been made as early as January.  

The Board decided it did not make sense to make mid-year reductions and would rather consider them within the framework of making significant changes to the district’s infrastructure and footprint.  The Board wants to take the Long-Range Planning Committee’s ideas into consideration when making any potential reductions.  This involves taking a more in-depth look at the entire district’s operations over the next several months.  The bottom line, however, is that our district’s Fund Equity account cannot be depleted further and up to $5 million may have to be eliminated from our operational expenses in the coming year to balance the budget moving forward. 

I want to again thank the members of the Long-Range Planning Committee for their hard work over the past several months.  I am very confident all decisions that will be made will position Lake Orion Community Schools to continue to flourish well into the future.  You also have my assurance that we will provide ongoing and frequent communication to all stakeholders as well as solicit your input as discussions unfold. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Challenging Times

Thanks to the talents and hard work of our staff, Lake Orion has become one of the premiere public educational communities in Oakland County and the State of Michigan.  Speaking on behalf of the Board of Education and our administrative team, I strongly believe our district’s commitment to providing an exemplary education for our students has been unmatched.

As you may know, however, these are very challenging times for all public schools in the state from a financial perspective.  Over the past 5 years, Lake Orion has lost more than 600 students and the corresponding amount of state funding.  These students have left for a variety of reasons, most notably because their families have moved out of Oakland County and, in many cases, the state.  As a result of declining enrollment and other financial impacts from the state, the district currently has a deficit of $1.9 million for the current school year.  Based on future student population projections and potential further financial implications, this deficit could increase to $5 million during the 2016-17 school year if nothing is done. 

We have been faced with large deficits in the past and relied on targeted budget reductions and cost savings, as well as tapping the district’s shrinking fund balance to balance the budget. All of our employees have sacrificed for the good of our students during these times.  Unfortunately, nobody expects the financial outlook of this school district or others in this state to improve noticeably in the future.  If anything, the situation may grow worse.  We are now at a point where significant changes need to be made to the district’s footprint and structure if it is to remain financially viable over the long-term with as minimal impact on our students as possible.

Our plan to exit this deficit situation includes making the difficult decision to implement major instructional and operational changes. Those that take place will be the result of recommendations put forth to the Board of Education by the administration and some from the long-range planning committee made up of parents, community members and Lake Orion staff that began meeting last summer.  All of the information used by this committee is available to review on the district’s website. 

The Board will begin reviewing these recommendations and discussing reductions at a special meeting on December 21st, which begins at 6 p.m. and which is open to the public. The meeting will be held at the Orion Center located at 1335 Joslyn Road in Lake Orion.


While this news is unsettling, I am very confident the changes to the district over the next few years will position Lake Orion Community Schools and its students for continued success for many years to come.  Please know that any changes will be communicated to all stakeholders as decisions are made.  If you have specific questions, feel free to contact me.