By Jim Newell
It seemed like a win-win situation for everyone involved: provide a liaison officer for Lake Orion’s three middle schools, an officer who would not just react to situations after they occur, but who would meet with students, parents and school staff to help prevent potential problems and provide education.
However, Lake Orion schools, Orion Township and Oakland Township are at odds over paying for the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) school liaison officer: $37,553 to be exact.
“What we’re asking them to do is to support Oakview Middle School, which is within their township. That’s really the bottom line,” said Lake Orion school Superintendent Marion Ginopolis.
Oakland Township government, however, does not want to contribute an equal share to the liaison officer position, Orion officials have said. Oakview Middle School is at 917 Lake George Rd. in Oakland Township.
The current liaison officer at the high school who does respond to other schools, when needed, Ginopolis said.
Oakland Township students, based on district boundaries, attend Blanche Sims, Oakview and the high school.
“In the past, we have had two liaison officers, that was prior to me coming (to Lake Orion), and budgetary constraints required us to eliminate one,” Ginopolis said. “So, the Orion Township board has generously supported the one officer for a number of years. And that officer is primarily at the high school.”
The liaison officer at Lake Orion High School is assigned through the OCSO Orion Township Substation and is financed through the Orion Township police fund.
“We really believe that our middle schools need a better support system through the liaison process than we have had,” Ginopolis said.
Oakland Township essentially wants to pro-rate the students and pay only a miniscule portion of the liaison officer costs – $2,912 for the 2018-19 school year – based on the approximately 70 students at Oakview who live in Oakland Township.
In a letter to Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett, dated June 6, Oakland Township Manager Dale Stuart proposed the payment plan, adding, “Oakland Township is not willing to consider a different arrangement with Orion Schools.”
Oakland Township currently contributes to the liaison officer program in Rochester schools. Under that agreement, the schools pay 25 percent of the costs and Oakland, the City of Rochester and the City of Rochester Hills pay the remaining 75 percent based on percentage of students within each community.
Oakland Township’s police services are financed through a 2017 voter-approved millage for 1.7193 mills for six years.
According to Oakland Township’s approved fiscal year 2018-19 budget, there is $2.88 million in the ending fund balance. The board approved 2018-19 general fund has $6.812 million in ending fund balance.
Lake Orion schools, Orion Township and the OCSO have been working on reinstating a middle school liaison officer since last year.
The OSCO liaison officer position
The middle schools’ liaison officer would be a fulltime, 10-month position, from late August through mid-June for the 2018-19 school year, and the officer would work with students at Waldon, Oakview and Scripps middle schools, said Lt. Dan Toth, commander of the OCSO Orion Township Substation.
The OCSO would reassign the officer’s duties for the other two months, most likely fo-
cusing on juvenile complaints during the summer vacation, working with the Orion Area Youth Assistance and other patrol duties, Toth said.
The high school currently has a fulltime OCSO liaison officer, who is “stretched thin and answers calls to other schools, not just Lake Orion High School,” Toth said.
The addition of the middle school officer would allow the high school officer to focus on prevention and education, not just dealing with issues after they happen. “We want to be preventive, not just reactionary,” Toth said.
“Working in the schools, it’s not strictly police work. Much of what we do is not a punitive type of police work. We do a lot of programming with the students, we do a lot of meetings with the parents, teachers and administrators and we mentor the students,” Toth said. “If you look at the number of issues at the middle schools, they have increased.”
A middle school liaison officer could talk with the students during lunch, do presentations at each of the schools, handle problems and just “be present” on campus.
“The philosophy of any middle school liaison program is to be preventive,” Toth said. “To spend the time in the schools to intervene prior to violent acts, prior to other types of detrimental concerns or issues.”
The OCSO would supply the officer’s equipment, uniforms, vehicles, communication devices and insurance, so each community and the school district would contribute $37,553.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer. We’re trying to come up with a very easy, simple way to pay for this liaison officer and thought dividing the costs equally was fair,” Barnett said. “It puts a deputy where we need one. At the end of the day it’s about keeping the kids safe. God forbid something happens at that building.”
Barnett said that as a neighboring township and local school district, he would have liked to form a better partnership with Oakland Township and was surprised at the reception during the Oakland Township meeting.
“There wasn’t a lot of professional courtesy there. They removed us from the agenda and wouldn’t let us talk,” Barnett said. “The frustration is that we work well with everybody. We want to have a really good, cohesive relationship with our surrounding communities. I thought this would be a really good way for us to partner with Oakland Township and support our students.”
Barnett added that “no formula is right” for working with different communities on school liaison issues, and that each case should be looked at separately.
“It’s not like we’re asking them for millions of dollars. We’re asking them to pay their share, considering that the school is in their community. In the end, we’re hoping to reach an agreement that works for all of us,” Barnett said.
But the Orion officials say they are not only disappointed that Oakland Township doesn’t seem to want to support the liaison position, but also with the lack of professional courtesy they received.
Ginopolis sent a letter to Stuart, dated April 26, requesting Oakland Township’s support for the liaison officer reinstatement for the 2018-19 school year, and asked to make a presentation at an upcoming board meeting.
Oakland Township received the letter on May 1, according to the township’s own “Received” date stamp. The letter was included in Oakland Township’s board packet for May 22.
The Oakland Township’s board did have the school liaison position listed under pending business on the May 22 agenda, and Barnett, Ginopolis, Lake Orion Assistant Superintendent John Fitzgerald and Oakview Principal Sarah Manzo attended that meeting.
“All of a sudden, one of the board members makes a motion to pull it from the agenda, saying they didn’t have enough information. Which was startling to us. We were stunned,” Ginopolis said. “We sent them a ton of information prior to that meeting.”
“Then they said they didn’t know it was going to be on the agenda. Which I found strange, being that they’re on the board. I’m assuming they got the agenda. Also, in the board packet was my letter to them, so they had the information.”
After being pulled from Oakland Township’s agenda, Ginopolis and Barnett did speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I told them how stunned I was and how disappointed and that we were prepared to make a presentation,” Ginopolis said. “I told them how important this position was and that this was really causing a delay in our ability to select an officer (for the middle school liaison position).”
After the May 22 meeting, Stuart began asking for more information, Ginopolis said, adding the school district sent more information and that she asked when the next meeting was and that she would like the issue to be on that agenda.
“And then he started implying that the board was not willing to support this position financially to the extent that we were asking,” Ginopolis said. “I said to him that that is our ask. Our ask is one third – one third – and one third. I kept asking him if I could come to a meeting (and address the board). I have emails from him that actually said, ‘There is no specific time when the board is going to hear this again.”
Ginopolis told Stuart that she would like to be in front of the Oakland Township board: “For them to tell me that they’re not going to support this position the way that we’re asking.”
“At any rate, we all went to the (June 12) meeting. Thank goodness that I found out, otherwise they would have had a discussion without us there,” Ginopolis said. “At this meeting, they all expressed that they think a liaison officer is terrific.”
Prior to the May 22 meeting, Fitzgerald said he and Toth and Barnett met with Stuart.
“I’m paraphrasing Dale here, but he basically dismissed us out of hand because it was an agreement before he got there, he wasn’t aware of and didn’t put a whole lot of thought to it.”
Fitzgerald met later with Stuart, who was looking at student counts. “It was pretty clear to me that he was figuring out a way to minimize the cost, versus our ask,” Fitzgerald said.
“What they keep asking is how many Oakland Township resident kids are in our district, and how many are at Oakview,” Ginopolis said. “What I keep trying to tell them is that we don’t ask kids where they live when we have an issue.”
The Oakland Township OCSO Substation does send an officer to the school when called to handle situations as they arise, Ginopolis said, “But it’s part of their normal force, as opposed to having a liaison officer.”
Barnett, Ginopolis and Fitzgerald say that while the Oakland Township sheriff’s deputies respond when needed to handle situations as they arise, the purpose of the school liaison officer is as much preventative as reactive.
“An officer does not say to a kid, ‘Hmm, are you from Oakland Township? Well, I can’t help you.’ That doesn’t make any sense. That’s why this has become a thing for me. It’s just not reasonable on their part,” Ginopolis said.
“It doesn’t matter what the students’ resident address is, they’re (Oakland Twp.) responsible for providing police services,” said Fitzgerald, an Oakland Township resident who voted for the township’s police millage. “Read the ballot: it says ‘Police services to Oakland Township, not Oakland Township residents (only).”
“A liaison officer is a proactive approach, not reactive, necessarily. Certainly they will react if there is an issue, but it is a much bigger position than that,” Ginopolis said. “Oakland Township supports the concept, they just don’t want to pay for it. That’s the bottom line.”
Contact Oakland Township
Ginopolis hopes that residents who support adding the middle school liaison officer will contact Oakland Township. Three Oakland Township residents spoke up during the board meeting saying Oakland Township should support the position and not quibble over $37,000, Ginopolis said.
Both she and Barnett said the schools and Orion Township would find a way to pay for the liaison officer – whether or not Oakland participates – but would like to Oakland Township to share in the costs for a building in that community.
The mailing address for the Charter Township of Oakland, Board of Trustees is 4393 Collins Rd., Rochester, MI 48306.
To email the Oakland Township Board of Trustees, go to www.oaklandtownship.org and follow the Boards and Commissions – Board of Trustees tab. There is a link to email all the board members at once.
The next board meeting is 7 p.m. June 26 at Oakland Township Hall.