By: Bill Holt
As citizens of the Lake Orion School District we all want to support great schools. First, it is good for our kids and grandkids. Second, it is good for our property values. Third, it is the right thing to do. Supporting great schools does not include wasting huge sums of tax dollars on classrooms that we do not need.
We could close one middle school now and one elementary school could be closed soon. With a declining student population and enough open capacity to close two schools we have no business spending capital dollars building new classrooms.
The Crude Birth Rate (CBR) for the world was 19.4 in the period 2010-2015. The CBR is projected to be 16.9 in the period 2020-2025, and 14.0 in the period 2040-2045. This means that the CBR is down 13% in 2020 from 2010 and is expected to be down 28% by 2040. The United States population growth is at an historical low level as the U.S. current birth rates are the lowest ever recorded. Our kids are getting married later and putting off childbearing. Other causes of lower birth rates include female labor force participation, contraceptive technology, economic stress and public policy (abortion).
Total Michigan student k-12 enrollment in 2018 is 1,475,962 which is 17,092 fewer students than we had in 2017 when the student population was 1,493,054. The statewide student population in 2010 was 1,604,580, which was 128,618 students more than are enrolled in 2018. The average loss by these Munetrix numbers is 16,077 per year over the past eight years. Please note that these numbers represent a period of positive economic growth across the state. The point is that we are losing a lot of students across the State every year. In my opinion, this trend needs to be considered when asking the voters to spend $160 million.
I consider the district’s student population projection to be incorrect and probably 180 degrees off course. Rochester Schools made the mistake of projecting their student population to grow from 15,000 to 25,000 and on the basis of this projection built a third high school. The Rochester student population is still at 15,000 so today they have excess capacity and the corresponding expense. On the other hand, the Bloomfield District recognized that student population was declining back in 2002. They consolidated their two high schools into one. At this point it appears that Bloomfield Schools made the smarter choice.
Orion Schools has three middle schools that are at 66% of capacity. We had 1757 MS students in schools in 2018 that have capacity for 2632 students. If we needed to close one MS and consolidate the total middle school population we would be at 95% of capacity. While this is not ideal it is doable if we needed to save some money.
Likewise, for the elementary schools, our October 2015 student count was 3,345 and our building capacity was 4,082. We closed Pine Tree Elementary last year which reduced the capacity by 572 seats to 3,510. This means that we are at 95% of capacity based on these 2015 numbers. Since then we have lost more students. The trend indicates that we could soon need to close another elementary school.
The district is asking the voters to authorize a bond for $160 million. This includes new construction for Blanche Sims Elementary ($26.0 million), an Early Childhood Center ($17.9 million) and reconfiguring CERC ($7.6 million). These three projects total $51.5 million and none of them should be approved by the voters.
The assertion by the district that we have to have an elementary school in the Village of Lake Orion is questionable. The Village represents about 8.4% of the Orion Township population and some part of that population resides on the west side of Lapeer Road. On average each elementary school today has about 17% of the Township population. When we need to close another elementary school which would bring the total down to five, each school would hold on average 20% of the student population. Before we build a new school on the Blanche Sims property, the district had better find out how the whole Orion community feels about which school should be closed next.
The district claims it would be a waste of money to repair Blanche Sims which is 69 years old. By that logic they are planning to waste money repairing Carpenter which is 63 years old and Webber which is 61 years old. If the district is claiming that we cannot offer a high-quality education program at Blanche Sims because it is old then that suggests that we can assume the same about Carpenter and Webber as well.
We do not need to build any new classrooms. It would be absurd to build a new elementary school, tear down Blanche Sims and then decide to close an elementary school in a few years. The Early Childhood Center should be placed in an existing facility, possibly CERC.
VOTE NO ON THE BOND.
Lake Orion resident
Bill Holt is a local entrepreneur and current trustee on the Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education. He chose not to seek reelection in the upcoming Nov. 6 general election.