Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Board actions to preserve our schools after unsuccessful bond election

As you may know, the August bond election asking voters to support school district building renovations, safety and security enhancements, and technology upgrades was unsuccessful. As a result, the School Board has been exploring various methods to address the most critical of these projects.  At its last meeting, the Board approved the administrative recommendation to issue energy bonds and installment purchase agreements to pay for $8 million of the $33 million of the projects that would have been funded had the election been successful.  

Neither the energy bonds nor installment purchase agreements require voter approval.  This is because their repayment must come from the district's general operating budget at an annual cost of approximately $800,000.  Regrettably, this means that there will be $800,000 less in the budget for direct instructional related expenses each year for at least 10 years. 

In addition to this indebtedness, I must inform you that resident student enrollment has declined by 148 students at a loss of $1.2 million in state funding. Fortunately, this was offset by $457,000 generated by the enrollment this year of 59 Schools of Choice students in the alternative high school and grades kindergarten through second grade from the Avondale, Brandon, Chippewa Valley, Holly, Oxford, Pontiac, Rochester, Romeo and Waterford school districts. 

There still is ample space available in our schools.  Consequently, in order to maintain our fund balance at the required levels, the administration has recommended the expansion of Schools of Choice through eighth grade (plus our Learning Options alternative high school) for the 2014-15 school year, with the maximum number not to exceed 175.  Along with the current SOC students, this would represent less than three percent of the total current district enrollment.

If all of the spaces are filled – and we are confident they would be, given the district’s strong reputation - adding these students would increase the district’s annual operating budget by $1.4 million.   These funds would allow the continuation of many current instructional programs, including our middle school team concept, high school modified block, art, music and physical education, as well as counseling and support services. In addition, this increase in funding will enable the district to enhance its world language and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum.  The goal is to keep Lake Orion academically competitive with surrounding school districts in Oakland County, 25 of 28 that also offer such Schools of Choice programs.

I want to stress our Schools of Choice program must be authorized each year by the Board and its members must approve this continuation and possible expansion. This is a one-year alternative until the expected growth in our community is realized as a result of new home development and until Board-planned revenue enhancement projects materialize.  The Board will be making a decision regarding the administration’s recommendation on the Schools of Choice program at its November 13 workshop.