Monday, April 1, 2013

A Tough "Choice"

Last week, our school district’s Board of Education voted to participate in the State of Michigan’s “Schools of Choice” program on a very restricted basis, starting next school year.  This was not an easy decision to make, for district administrators and Board members recognize this community welcomed our past opposition to such a move.
I want to emphasize this is not a public policy position in support of Schools of Choice.  As it is, Lake Orion will be one of the last of the 28 Oakland County school districts to agree to participate in the program. However, given the current pressures facing the district we really had no choice but to move in this direction.  Like many decisions being made today, it focused on money.
Michigan’s economy, loss of state aid revenue, increased expenses and declining enrollment have taken their toll on the district’s school budget. This year, enrollment has declined by more than 160 students from 2011-12 and is expected to decline by at least another 60 students next year.  This translates to a loss of over $1.8 million in revenue to Lake Orion Community Schools.
The district and School Board have spent long hours evaluating ways to address the situation.  In addition to a number of current and future reductions in expenses, accepting a limited number of students from outside district boundaries on a very restricted basis will increase the district’s revenue. 

The Lake Orion Schools of Choice program will be open to approximately 175 students in kindergarten through second grade at elementary schools where there is identified space available.  We also will be expanding our Learning Options program to accept some students from other districts.   I regret that while we had hoped to be able to make this option available to former resident students at any grade level who have attended our schools but whose families have had to move out of the school district, we have been informed by the State that this is not allowable under Schools of Choice.

Like other districts in our region, students participating in this program must provide their own transportation to/from school and those who have been expelled or suspended from their previous districts are not eligible. The Schools of Choice program is in place for one year only, with future authorizations by the Board of Education to be made on an annual basis. Children who are admitted into the program this first year can remain in the district for the remainder of their school years if desired.

Our No. 1 priority is to provide the best learning environment possible for students who live in the Lake Orion community.  I truly believe we have the best educators in the state.  They are lucky to work with great students and families.  We think a restricted Schools of Choice program will actually help save the current award-winning instructional programs for our 7,800 resident students.  While this was not an easy decision to make, we think it is the right one given the challenging circumstances schools face today.