By Meg Peters
The Lake Orion Community School District must shrink.
For the past several months district administrators and school board members have researched possible ideas for resizing the district, including closing one or more schools. They invite the public to explore options and ask questions at a public meeting Monday, April 25.
The public forum will take place at the Orion Township Public Library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The library is located at 825 Joslyn Rd. in Orion Township.
Discussions will center on re-districting options, the timeline for implementation, and give residents a chance to voice their opinions.
No decisions have been made yet as to which school(s) will be closing, Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said, but that is her number one question she receives.
“We have hired Plante Moran to conduct a study of our buildings to determine which one(s) should be considered,” she said, recommending that people wait for the study results. The study will take two to three months to complete, and more information will be provided at the public forum.
The biggest drive for the restructuring is funding and shrinking enrollment.
The State of Michigan, which manages most of the funding school districts receive, dispenses money to each district based on the number of students enrolled.
For Lake Orion, and many districts throughout Michigan, that number has been dropping.
Today there are 667 fewer resident students than six years ago attending Lake Orion schools. The trend has become that more seniors graduate each year than the number of kindergarteners that enroll. In the 2014-15 school year, for example, 612 seniors graduated, but only 483 kindergarteners came in, or 129 students less.
Ginopolis calls this trend “aging out.”
“Are there some things the district could have done earlier is the real question here,” she said.
“The one thing I would have considered is addressing the ‘right sizing’ sooner and been more conservative in our enrollment projections.”
With the 2016-17 year just around the corner, the district is making reductions to close a $1.9 million deficit. About $750,000 of that deficit is the unrealized per pupil funding the district budgeted for this year. But the district was off in enrollment projects by the 80 students that would have brought the $750,000.
One fact to consider is people are having fewer babies. In 1995 roughly 16,000 children were born in Oakland County. By 2015 that number had dropped to about 13,000.
Funding cuts have also caused challenges. In 2012, $470 was cut from Lake Orion’s per pupil funding, from $8,302 per student to $7,832. Over the last couple years it has increased slightly, with each student bringing the district about $8,033 for the current year.
Critics say that the top administrators should take pay cuts. Nineteen Lake Orion employees’ salaries exceed $100,000 per year. The district pays more than $200,000 in total compensation for many of these positions.
Future budget concerns for the 2016-17school year include an estimated enrollment decline of 125 students, or a loss of about $1 million, about $1 million in estimated cost increases, and this year’s operating deficit of approximately $1.9 million, for a grand total of $3.9 million in the red.
The forum will not only introduce preliminary redistricting options but also touch on other hot topics that have been discussed, including changing the district’s approach to the focus school structure and a sinking fund election.
It will begin with a brief overview presentation followed by questions from the audience. The questioning portion will be divided by specific topics based on the feedback administration has received from community stakeholders.
“While we want to keep the forum on task and focused, it is an opportunity for our community to engage in a dialogue with the Board of Administration,” Ginopolis said.
Send Ginopolis questions in advance by emailing her firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send questions and comments to school board members at LOBoard@lakeorion.k12.mi.us.
By Meg Peters