Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Best FINANCIAL Practices"

Yesterday, I attended a meeting with superintendents and legislators from NW Oakland County.   First, kudos to our Representative, Brad Jacobsen, who attends every meeting so he becomes knowledgeable and familiar with issues and concerns of local schools.

During the meeting, questions were asked for clarification to the definition and timeline for implementation of "best practices."  (See "Strings attached..." posting below) It was suggested to our legislators that the term  be renamed to "best financial practices" to eliminate confusion with what is typically interpreted to mean educational practices.

According to the legislators in attendance, while the wording is not yet final, indications are that districts moving in this direction will qualify for the additional reduction of $100. That could be good news for Lake Orion as we move forward in meeting these targets.

One of the best practices listed which I indicated I was unsure of the meaning was a Dashboard.  So, I did my research and discovered that this refers to the Governor's Dashboard Website on which information is provided to tell how the state performs in areas that affect Michigan families as well as shows comparisons with other states.

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS!  And, whether or not it puts us closer to qualifying for additional revenue, I intend to create a similar Lake Orion Schools Dashboard for our families to have transparent information about the district in the areas of finance, student achievement, and other topics of value.

Our current website already has some of this information but one has to hunt and seek to get it and it's no wonder why some community residents think we're not being transparent.  Once we figure out how to get this up and running, I'll post the information on this Blog.

For input on what might be included on this Dashboard, cast your vote in the poll at the right.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Strings attached....

It sure sounded good when the most recent proposed per pupil reduction to K-12 was announced to go from the original amount of $470 to $270...that is,  until we read the fine print.

Here's how the latest version shakes out:  The Governor's proposed reduction was $170 + $300 = $470 per pupil.  Districts could have that reduced by $100 to assist with the increased retirement costs mandated by the state bringing that to $370 per pupil

To get to the $270 (an additional $100) a district has to do 4 out of the 5 following "best practices" for which we do not currently qualify:
  1. Be the Policyholder
  2. 10% employee paid insurance now
  3. Bid out non-instrucitonal services
  4. Dashboard on Website (not sure what this means)
  5. Current collaboration  
So, if this is the final version, what would that mean for Lake Orion Community Schools?  Our funding from the School Aid Fund would be reduced by $370 per pupil for the 2011-12 school year.  Translated into a dollar amount, that would be a reduction of approximately $2.9 million from what was originally proposed to be a reduction of $3.6 million.  

With an anticipated increase of retirement costs of $1.8 million, the total amount of the hit to our budget will be about $4.7 million.  While this is still huge, it is better by about $780,000 than originally projected. 

Similar to the old saying, "If you don't like the weather in Michigan, just stick around for five minutes, it will change," we're not counting on anything until the Governor signs on the dotted line. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Year Round for Lake Orion Schools?

Wow!  I certainly didn't expect all the buzz that we're experiencing as a result of exploring a new educational structure for teaching and learning.  That's OK - it's time we start thinking differently about how we provide education to meet the needs of our 21st Century students.   And, as a teacher commented to me, "It's refreshing to have our community discussing an education issue on Facebook rather than the politics that have been so consuming this year. "

First, year-round means that the school calendar is revised and extends throughout the calendar year;  it does not mean that students meet every day with no breaks!

Some cynics are saying that there's some ulterior stealth motive behind this.  To set the record straight, my motivation for throwing out this idea is driven by two nagging questions that have been haunting me for some time now; first, does learning have to be driven by a calendar that begins every September and ends in June?  Secondly, does learning have to take place inside of four walls or can we take advantage of the advances in technology and create a new definition of K-12 "school?"

A few initial issues the task force will be asked to consider about a year-round schedule are ...
  1. Do students have to be in a school building to be learning; can they be extending their education all year via online courses when they are not "in school" and/or that do not currently fit into their daily schedule?
  2.  Can we provide more uninterrupted time for students to meet the requirements of grade level expectations and the common core curriculum we will soon be implementing?
  3. Can we more closely align direct instruction with state-wide assessment periods so that the forgetting curve and need to relearn aren't as prevalent as they are with long summers vacations?
The bottom line is whether reorganizing school to be "year round" with educational opportunities outside of a "school building" is best for Lake Orion students.
    Will any of this cost more/less?  Until we decide what "this" is, that should not be the driving force.  Of course, I'm aware of our financial situation!  However, the cost of any innovation should not be the first consideration.  Rather, the approach for all budgeting should always first be what is the best educational program for students.  Once that is determined, next steps should include...
    • How much will it cost?
    • How much do we have?
    • Can we afford everything? 
      • if yes, great!
      • if not, 
        • can we phase-in over time? 
        • are there other funding sources we can tap into?
        • are there areas that can be reduced/eliminated to be replaced with new programs?
    So, to those who want to volunteer to participate on the task force that will begin to investigate the possibility of a year round district with many virtual opportunities for students, I have only two expectations; be open-minded and agree to support the consensus decision of the group.

    Anyone interested in participating on the task force is asked to send an email to jolko@lakeorion.k12.mi.us