The audience gathered for a Clawson Board of Education workshop stands to show support for what were described as underpaid school employees at the Clawson High School auditorium Oct. 16.

The audience gathered for a Clawson Board of Education workshop stands to show support for what were described as underpaid school employees at the Clawson High School auditorium Oct. 16.

Photo by Donna Dalziel


Clawson school board hears options for district’s future

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 22, 2019

 Rodney Green, a consultant with the Michigan Association of School Boards, hired by Oakland County Schools, takes questions from school board members about the future of Clawson Public Schools Oct. 16.

Rodney Green, a consultant with the Michigan Association of School Boards, hired by Oakland County Schools, takes questions from school board members about the future of Clawson Public Schools Oct. 16.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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CLAWSON — On Oct. 18, the Clawson Board of Education held a public workshop in the Clawson High School auditorium to hear options for the district’s future, as officials say that declining enrollment has triggered the need for action.

The presentation included three “right-sizing” options — reconfiguring, closing and selling buildings — as well as annexation with a nearby district.

The board did not make any decisions at the workshop, and a community forum to hear public input is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Clawson High School auditorium. The board is expected to make a recommendation by Nov. 18.

Based on projections by the district’s administration, if the district does not act now, the district will continue to lose students and per-pupil revenue at a significant rate, and its fund balance will fall below the 5% threshold — what the state calls an “early trigger warning” — in the 2020-21 school year.

The fund balance will fall to 8.9%, or about $1.3 million, in 2019-20 and to 2.5%, or $360,000, in 2020-21, according to projections.

“By 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, we’re at a deficit,” said Jackie Johnston, assistant superintendent of business services.

Superintendent Tim Wilson said many districts have dealt with or are dealing with declining enrollment because the state’s birth rate has been declining and the number of schools, including charter and online schools, are increasing.

Clawson Public Schools has faced a decline in enrollment the last nine out of 10 years. Challenges unique to Clawson include that the city is landlocked in regard to residential growth, and other districts are now offering more competitive Schools of Choice programs.

Of Clawson’s 1,477 students, approximately 950 live in Clawson and 500 are enrolled through School of Choice, Wilson said.

Most of the district’s revenue is based on the state’s per-pupil allowance. Over the last three years, the district lost 246 students — an average of 82 per year — and approximately $2 million, he said. 

“We would not need to have this conversation if we had those students,” he said.

The loss of revenue, he said, also has meant that the district is unable to maintain competitive wages.

“We have reduced our teaching staff by 13 positions in the last two years,” Wilson said. “For many years, we’ve had no curriculum budget to buy new curriculum or textbooks, and we also have no state-of-the-art STEM classrooms.”

While Clawson voters passed a building and technology bond, the funds are now nearly depleted, and if the school board opts to reconfigure the district, the district would need to pass a new bond soon, he said.

Close Kenwood Elementary School?

Johnston introduced option 1A: close Kenwood Elementary School and sell the building. The high school would remain grades nine-12, but the middle school would shift to grades five-eight with 415 students, and Schalm Elementary School would become developmental kindergarten through fourth grade with 540 students. Schalm does not quite have all the needed space and art, music or the computer lab resources would have to go on a cart.

The annual cost savings of option 1A, Johnson said, is $388,000, plus the one-time boost of $900,000 from selling the building. The option pushes out the fund balance falling below 5% one year, to 2021-2022, with a deficit by 2022-2023.

Johnston said cons include losing the green space around Kenwood once it is developed; possibly losing Kenwood families who opt not to shift to Schalm, and, if the district were to need to build an elementary school in the future, the price tag is approximately $15 million.

Close Clawson Middle School?

Option 1B would be to close Clawson Middle School but keep the main corridor — including the media center, 10 classrooms, offices and an auxiliary gum — open. The high school would move to grades seven-12 with 625 students, and Kenwood and Schalm would house developmental kindergarten to sixth grade, with 280 and 475 students, respectively.

The high school would have enough space by utilizing the middle school classrooms, but Johnston said officials discussed the possibility of special education teachers sharing classrooms and converting the technology offices to work spaces for them. Technology staff would move to the district’s central office.

She said Kenwood and Schalm could easily handle the shift of students.

The annual cost savings, Johnston said, would be $429,000. The option also pushes out the fund balance falling below 5% one year, to 2021-22, with a deficit by 2022-23.

Combine and sell schools?

Option 1C would be to combine Clawson Middle School with Clawson High School, as well as close Kenwood Elementary School and repurpose it into a preschool child care center. The high school would hold grades six-12 with 725 students, the middle school’s main corridor would remain open, and Schalm would hold developmental kindergarten through fifth grade with 635 students. The plan also includes selling the Baker building.

With the additional middle school classrooms, Johnston said, the high school would be able to house the proposed number of students; however, only 19 of the 24-25 needed classrooms at Schalm would be readily available.

The annual cost savings of option 1C, Johnston said, is $814,000, plus the one-time revenue of $500,000 from the sale of Baker. However, the cost to build a new classroom wing at Schalm would be approximately $3.1 million, she said.

The option also pushes the early trigger warning out one year to 2021-22, with a deficit by 2022-23.

Annexation?

For annexation to happen with any district, a mutually beneficial agreement would have to be made between both districts, Wilson said.

“It’s important to understand it’s not a takeover. It would be a partnership,” he said.

If the school board directed him to negotiate an annexation, Wilson said, there is a list of “nonnegotiables” that he would require, including that Clawson Public Schools buildings stay intact; students continue to attend the same buildings; the names of the schools remain; and athletic teams remain in the same leagues.

Teachers, administration and staff would stay in place; salaries should improve; and offerings for students should stay the same or improve, he said.

“Our central office staff and business staff would need to be eliminated, and the ISD (technology) contract eliminated. There’s a huge savings there,” Wilson said. “I’m pretty certain my job would be gone; however, if that’s what’s best for our kids and this district, I would be willing to do that.”

He said Troy School District officials have already said they would entertain a formal offer of annexation; Clawson already works with Troy in regard to curriculum and food service.

Compared to Clawson’s $8,528 per pupil, Troy receives $9,300 per pupil and Royal Oak receives $9,118 per pupil, Wilson said. With the combined increase of per-pupil revenue, plus the elimination of the central office staff, business staff and technology contract, he said, Clawson would see an immediate $2.4 million increase in revenue the day after annexation.

“If we had $2.4 million, even with the loss of students, we could sustain that,” he said. “Most districts also have a sinking fund available.”

Depending on the district that Clawson were to merge with, residents may see a tax increase. If it were to merge with Troy, Wilson said residents would likely see an increase of a little less than 1 mill.

“If we choose right-sizing, we’re going to have to pass a fairly large bond, which might or might not increase taxes,” he said.

Pros of annexation, he said, include a greatly improved financial situation, more teaching resources, more options for students and buildings remaining intact. Cons include elimination of the Clawson school board, loss of administration jobs and a fear of the unknown, he said.

In terms of timeline, Wilson said that depending on negotiations, school board and voter approval, and other factors, the goal would be to merge by the 2021-20 school year.

Reaction

School board member Jessica Back said the state could decide to dissolve the district if it is brought in to help manage Clawson’s finances.

“Anything that’s only taking us out one to two years is just not enough, unfortunately,” Back said.

She also condemned the model of state funding, which she said bestows a worth of $800 more per student for those living 2 miles north of Clawson.

“We have been screaming that the sky is falling for (the entire time I’ve been on the school board), and nobody has listened at the state level,” Back said. “We are still in a position now where we’re looking at this. I’m sorry, but that’s BS.”

“(The Legislature doesn’t) look at what’s equitable,” school board member Michael Frink said. “Students in different districts of different sizes cost different amounts of money, depending on the income level. Very rarely do we ever get reimbursed properly for the cost of special needs kids.”

School board member Kimberley Carlesimo asked what would happen if the board opted for annexation, but voters rejected it.

Rodney Green, a consultant from the Michigan Association of Schools Boards, hired by Oakland Schools to help with the process, said Clawson Public Schools should be preparing simultaneously for annexation and right-sizing in case of such a scenario.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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