Clawson school board OKs invitation to Troy for annexation

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

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CLAWSON — On Nov. 18, the Clawson Board of Education unanimously approved three resolutions put forth by Clawson Public Schools Superintendent Tim Wilson regarding the future of the district.

The first and most substantial resolution authorized Wilson to formally invite the Troy School District to consider annexing Clawson Public Schools and begin negotiations with Troy Superintendent Richard Machesky. Both school boards, as well as Clawson and Troy voters, must also approve the annexation.

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 2021-22 school year.

“It will take several months to see if (annexation) is even feasible and makes sense economically,” said Kerry Birmingham, the Troy School District’s director of communications and strategic initiatives. “We don’t know what we don’t know yet.”

She said that at this point, the Troy Board of Education has only agreed to look into annexation. An internal team will look at numbers, staffing and demographics in Clawson schools before making a recommendation to the board. As Troy voters will also be part of the process, Birmingham said the district would hold public engagement meetings before proposing anything on the ballot.

“We’re at the very beginning of the process,” she said.

Wilson said the annexation made more sense than three “right-sizing” options — or reconfiguring, closing and selling buildings — presented during a public workshop held by the Clawson Board of Education Oct. 18.

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

Wilson said he decided to recommend annexation with Troy for a number of reasons, including that the two districts already work together on curriculum and professional development.

“Troy is one of the top districts in the state of Michigan,” Wilson said. “When I reviewed our nonnegotiables with the Troy superintendent, his comment was, ‘Those make sense.’ He said we would need to talk more about them, but he said they made sense.”

Some of the nonnegotiable items that Wilson had outlined at the Oct. 18 work session included that Clawson Public Schools buildings would stay intact, students would continue to attend the same schools, the names of the schools would remain the same, athletic teams would remain in the same leagues, and opportunities would improve for students and staff.

In addition, he said, the Troy Board of Education reaffirmed during a recent workshop that it would be willing to talk to Clawson Public Schools about annexation. 

Compared to Clawson’s approximately $8,500 per pupil, Troy receives $9,300 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 post-annexation.

While Troy’s taxes are speculated to most likely decrease, Clawson’s are speculated to increase to the tune of 0.77 mills, Wilson said. That is equal to 77 cents per $1,000 of taxable value.

He added that Clawson’s existing schools are strategically located near the south end of Troy, away from other Troy school buildings, which would give Troy students more choices as enrollment increases. On the flip side, several Royal Oak schools are located in close proximity to Clawson schools, making the possible merging of schools more likely, he said.

Wilson said his biggest issue was increasing opportunities for Clawson students, as well as staff, and he felt that Troy offered the most opportunities in terms of resources, electives and a smooth transition.

“I continuously think with my head, not my heart, and my head says this is the right thing to do at this time,” Clawson school board member Ted Verner said.

School board member Thomas Reed cast his vote as, “reluctantly, yes.”

Plan B

If the agreement with Troy falls through during negotiations, or if the residents of Clawson or Troy vote it down, Clawson Public Schools will have to continue working on secondary plans for the future of the district.

On Nov. 18, the school board unanimously approved a second resolution to give authority to Wilson to form a committee to begin soliciting funds from individuals, businesses and corporations to establish a fund to sustain the long-term financial stability of Clawson Public Schools.

“We’ve had some people ask how much money it would take to keep the schools going, and I came up with between $5 (million) and $7 million,” Wilson said. “That sounds like a ton of money to some people; however, to some businesses and corporations and even some philanthropists, they do that on a regular basis, so what do we have to lose by giving that a try?”

The original resolution gave authority to the superintendent to solicit funds, but the board amended it to include the formation of a committee. Board members voiced personal interest in joining and also cited correspondence from community members who said that they would help.

“I would imagine your plate is going to be awfully full. I think we need to take some consideration of this and figure out how best we can help you with this. I don’t think you can take this on by yourself,” Reed told Wilson.

Verner said the second resolution appealed to him the most and that he is willing to share a list of names and contacts to help the process.

“I’m a little hesitant on this one,” school board President Andrea Hodges said. “It’s tough going out there to ask people to donate to the tune of $5 (million) to $7 million to support a public entity — a school district. I think it’s going to be tough and a hard sell.”

Reed said he agrees that it would be tough, but that he feels it is a viable option, especially if the committee identified specific goals.

Buildings to stay open

The third resolution proposed by Wilson resolved that the district would not seek to close any buildings at the present time. It also gave him authority to focus on restructuring early childhood programs between Baker and the district’s two elementary schools.

“If we’re going to be moving towards annexation with Troy, I would like to know what their thoughts are, and go over the right-sizing proposals we have looked at, and see what they think,” Wilson said.

He added that closing structures ultimately does not save the district significant revenue, unless it also includes cutting positions, as 80% of the district’s budget is personnel costs.

Of the three “right-sizing” options, the school board leaned most toward option 1C, which would 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 plan also includes selling the Baker building.

“I’m just concerned with 1C, with Kenwood being an early childhood center, how people south of 14 Mile are going to feel about that, when you have a Royal Oak elementary school closer than Schalm,” he said. “Right now, there is not room to easily move anybody into another building. Even with 1C, if we moved everybody to Schalm, there would have to be some building going on.”

Eventually, if annexation were to occur, Wilson said the administrative offices at Baker would be superfluous, and if the district could move the early childhood services to its two elementary schools, it would make sense to sell the building.

“We’re not going to close any buildings this upcoming year,” he said. “(Option) 1C was the better of all evils in a sense, but we’re a little ahead of ourselves as we make changes toward annexation. If we’re working with annexation, it might be a little different.”

Staff Writer Terry Oparka contributed to this report.

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