Keeping the grass roots growing!!
As I read in the June 24th edition of the Lapeer County Press, I see that our district looks to finalize the sale of the now closed Hadley and Elba elementary buildings. On the face of it, it seems like good news. The district will be out from under the burdens that unused buildings cost us to maintain. Also, this will mean money into our fund for repairing the buildings that we are still using. According to the paper, the combined sale of $250,000. This is good news, but what is troubling to me is that we have over $180,000 in bond money invested into these buildings that we, the taxpayers, will be paying for until 2037 and at this point we still have not done our best to insure that we do not make the same mistake in the future.
As I have written in previous posts, LCS, like many other districts, regularly purchase 5 year projections from a specialized company to evaluate what our future facility and staff needs will be for our incoming students. In a field where your revenue is based on the number of students sitting in the classroom, this is a pretty important thing, or at least you would think so. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case and there is no telling how badly this mistake has hurt us.
We elect citizens from our ranks to be our children's representatives on the school board. We expect that they will be given all the tools and information that they need to do a good job. As it turns out, they were given only the most limited information, to base their decisions on things like budgets, building closures, staffing needs, and all the other things involved with running a modern school district.
My most recent FOIA (Fredom of Information Act) request to Lapeer Schools realized my worst fear. The only information that had been shared with our board members was a one page summary presented to our board in October of 2006. Keep in mind that these projections are well over 20 pages each, and we have projections from 03, 04, 05, 06, 2010, and 2011. That is over 120 pages of information about our district that our school board was not given to view. Is there any case that can be made for not giving this information to our elected board members? While ALL of our district employees are expected to take a 8.7% cut in pay this year, isn't it reasonable to think that had our board been given this information in 2006, 2007 or at any time, they might not have spent bond money which will cost the taxpayers between $2.4 and $2.8 million on buildings that are now closed?? Were I a Lapeer Schools employee, I would not be happy that we could have done more earlier to reduce our costs and make the tough choices that a smaller number of students demands. It is worth remembering that this current Board of Education voted to spend $2.6 million from its fund balance 1 year ago without ever being given the actual information that would have showed our districts student counts dropping rapidly. Might they have decided to close Seaton a year earlier and save $300,000? Had they been given this information in 2007, might they have NOT put bond money into buildings that we no longer educate students in? If the Board had been given this information, could we have made better choices to lessen the drastic cuts that now need to be made.The one certain thing we can say is that they were NEVER given that option, because they were never given this information. That was then, but what are our policies now?
After I received the information that our school board was only given a one page summary in 2006, I sent an email (click to view) to all of our current school board members and our Superintendent, Matt Wandrie. I urged all parties to make changes to our districts board policies so that no matter who our board members are or who our Superintendent is, ALL future board members will be given the same vital information that the administration has, with regards to student counts and projections.
There is one other thing troubling me. Why is it that I, a simple parent and volunteer, can acquire these documents, speak up for multiple months at public comment about their existence, but none of our current board members has ever requested these documents or claimed to know they ever existed? It seems to me that our current board members might need to do much better homework if they want to continue to represent us on the LCS board. What I as a private person had to do through an phone call and email, our board can do with a simple request to the administration. Given the fact that only 2 of the 7 board members have responded to my request to change LCS policy with regards to enrollment projections, I am not quite sure what to think.
I can only hope that now that all parties are aware of the mistakes and over sites of the past, that we will rectify our procedures and make sure that those we elect to represent us actually do have the best information possible to make the important decisions on behalf of our kids. Time will tell, but with the upcoming election in November, 2 LCS board seats are up for election. We must make sure that whoever we elect to our school board will do the homework necessary and insure that they have all the facts. Even if this means asking very tough and pointed questions from whatever administration is running our district. Our kids deserve the best from us. Have we really given them our best efforts? That is a question that we need to continually ask ourselves.