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Clawson School Board Meets to Weigh School District Options

Clawson School Board Meets to Weigh School District Options

(Drew Saunders, Nov. 4, 2019)

Clawson, MI-  Whether Clawson Public Schools restructures its operations, or gets absorbed into a neighboring school district, one thing was made clear during Monday night’s School Board Workship: nobody wants it to go in pieces.

Clawson Public Schools has been keeping itself afloat by putting off giving pay raises to its teachers, delaying upgrading some of its technology and eliminating faculty positions; 13 positions have been eliminated in just the last two years. But the districts fund balance is going to run into negative territory within the next few years; and the district has one of two options. It can either sell off one of its buildings and rearrange where students go, or it can attempt to merge into another district.

“In a perfect world it [Clawson] would be an independent school district. But with the stats the way they are, I don’t think there are any other solution to this long term problem,” Melissa Kolf, a parent who attended the meeting, said.

The problem is that public school districts across the state are having to keep going on an ever shrinking pool of students, partly because of Michigan’s declining birth date. And because the way schools are funded depends on the head count of how many students each district has, Clawson has less and less money to work with.

Couple that with the increasing popularity of charter schools and school of choice education, the long term financial situation becomes even more uncertain. 500 of Clawson’s 1,477 students are from parents who made Clawson their school of choice. That helps the district, but it means that about a third of their pool of students are less inclined toward retention, because their parents could very easily move them next year. Clawson is losing about 80 students per year according to the district.

The board did not make any formal decision on which school district to formally approach to ask for annexation. However, the board did express openness for Superintendent Tim Wilson to approach his counterparts in Royal Oak and Troy to see if their school boards would consider the idea. Even if the superintendent and school board of a neighboring district wanted to annex Clawson, it would have to be approved by voters in both districts.

“I don’t think that people get that we have a say, that both cities are going to take this to a vote,” Jackie Ingham, a parent who attended the meeting, told the Oakland County Times. “The right information has to be conveyed to the communities on why it would be a benefit for both,” Clawson, and whichever district that the district might merge into. “But band-aiding is not an option.”

The benefits of annexation were listed in the presentation, including:
Finances greatly improve immediately
More teaching, resources and expertise available to teachers
More options for our students
All buildings remain intact and students continue to attend the same buildings
Buildings can be maintained and improved
Staff will see improved pay and jobs become more secure (except for central office)

In looking at neighboring Troy and Royal Oak districts, Troy would bring the most economic impact for the students. According to the presentation, if Troy absorbed Clawson students their per pupil funding rate would go from $8,500 to $9,300.  It would eliminate $680,000 in central office expenses, $300,000 in business office expenses, and $250,000 in technology costs, recognizing a bottom line difference of $2.4 million in the first year.

The other potential solution  is called “right sizing.”

There were three ways presented that would rearrange the district by selling one of the buildings and shuffling the students around to fit within fewer buildings.

Each one would sell a building and make classes like art and music travel to the student’s classrooms on cart.  This would save the district several hundred thousand dollars per year; but the fund balance would still end up in the red within a few years. None of the board members seemed enthusiastic about any of the restructuring options.

“We want Clawson to remain Clawson,” School Board President Andrea Hodges said in the meeting, adding that she doesn’t want a solution that is “just a bandaid.”

The discussions are moving forward, with administrators facilitating discussions with the neighboring districts.

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