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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blog focus/description part 1

Hello!  I am Dawn Schaller.  I moved to Independence Township with my family 15 years ago to enjoy the rolling hills, the trees, the more rural feel, the safer place to bring up our daughter, and the schools with a good reputation.  I was blissfully unaware of the workings of the schools and local government.  With a full time job and a child to care for, I didn’t really have the time to pay attention to what they were doing.  I figured that I was doing my share by paying my taxes, voting, donating to school funds for the PTAs/PTOs, volunteering in my daughter's class rooms, and helping out at school functions for our daughter.

In January of 2010, I read that the school board was meeting on a particular Monday to discuss proposed budget cuts, including a harebrained idea to do away with busing in a centralized school district encompassing 60 square miles with seven elementary schools, but only one high school, one junior high, and one middle school.  What were they thinking!!?!?  I decided I needed to find out what was going on.

When I attended that meeting, the school board voted against doing away with busing, but they discussed privatization of the transportation and custodial staff.  Many people spoke about the need (for the students as well as the employees’ financial well being) to keep the current bus drivers and custodians.  In the ensuing meetings over a few weeks, the board kept both employee groups, but squeezed significant pay cuts out of both of them.  I have since found that the bus drivers and the custodians are most of the middle income employees in the district (with teachers, administrators, and most Central Office staff as the big dollar employees and most everyone else in the low paid employee ranks).
Once the budget was finalized for the 2010/2011 school year, I could breathe a sigh of relief and go on with my life, right?  WRONG!  I saw things go on at those school board meetings that made my blood boil.  The condescending behavior and comments of certain board members toward other board members and an apparent lack of concern for what the public wanted made me need to know what was going on behind the scenes.  I also needed to investigate how a district could be so broke that they could be driven to considering cutting out busing within six months after administration had told the board that they were so flush with cash that they could afford to add two new expensive programs - an “International Baccalaureate” program for the high school and a “Fast ForWord” program in all of the schools because they “had plenty of money”. 

The property values have gone down significantly from the sustained recession in Michigan, resulting in reduced tax revenues to the local taxing jurisdictions (townships, cities, villages, etc.) as well as the school systems.  High unemployment rates and business failures have resulted in less state tax revenue and more expenses for the state.  Due to the state’s financial condition, the state has made cuts in the “per pupil funding” to all of the school systems across the state and they are warning of possible additional cuts - not to be bad guys, but because the state can’t just print money like the federal government can, it has to balance it’s budget, just like the local jurisdictions. 

In my opinion, neither Independence Township nor Clarkston Community Schools (not sure about the City of the Village of Clarkston) had prepared themselves for this current financial situation (shrinking revenues).  I believe that they are still ill prepared to deal with it and seem to be ignoring it.  The “elephant in the living room” (the financial situation) is not going away and needs to be addressed.  The tax revenue reductions are unprecedented in recent decades, but need to be addressed or the local governments or school system risk a financial take over by an outside firm (like what happened in the Detroit Public Schools).

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