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Letter: Ferndale School Board Candidate Talks School Finance

Ferndale Board of Education candidate Brad Parks submitted this letter to the editor.

Ferndale Patch welcomes letters to the editor.

The following was submitted by Ferndale Board of Education candidate Brad Parks.

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TALKING ABOUT THE 'F' WORD IN FERNDALE SCHOOLS - SCHOOL FINANCE

In the past several weeks as the race for Ferndale Board of Education seats has heated up, I am surprised to see very little discussion about the "F" word in Ferndale schools- namely,  school Finance. 

While the Citizens for Better Education endorsed candidates have stressed Ferndale's balanced budget and the growing general "rainy day" fund  (a rarity in Oakland county schools during these tough economic times), their opponents from CLEAR have repeatedly called for cuts in income to the district (such as the Superintendent's consulting contract, which brings in $180,000 a year), new expenses for the district (such as a new strategic plan, estimated to cost up to $100,000), and have openly advocated renegotiating the Superintendent's contract to a 1 year in the middle of his current 5-year contract (which could cost up to $600,000 if his contract is ended prematurely, even though he has received uniformly high marks on his district performance review for the past 10 years). 

During the last school board candidate forum, one of the CLEAR candidates stated they had no idea why the district even needed a rainy day fund at all.  For the record, the general fund is required to cover district expenses in case of emergency, and is recommended by the state auditors and business officials to be at 15% of the school operating budget.  While other Districts are dipping into their general fund to cover everyday expenses, our fund has been growing over the past 10 years and is now at 11%.  In our last audit by the accounting firm of Yeo and Yeo, the management of our school district finances was given high marks  for transparency and careful budgeting.   CLEAR also appeared unaware that the district is forced by the current state school funding regulations to borrow monies to cover district expenses that occur before the school year starts, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars each year in interest payments.  A robust Rainy Day fund will eliminate this current necessity and save the district money that can be applied towards real educational needs.

It's distressing to see CLEAR candidates promote themselves as a fresh new alternative, when, if they were to be elected, Ferndale schools would have a board with little experience, an openly confrontational approach towards the Superintendent and the school administration, and a new deficit of at least a quarter of a million dollars, if not more.  What teachers and programs in the district would CLEAR candidates propose cutting in order to re-balance a budget that the current board has worked so hard to achieve?

These are the kinds of hard questions voters should ask themselves before voting for the radical CLEAR agenda. This is why I felt it was so important to work on Board committees for the past three years-- to understand our district processes before considering myself ready to take my experience to the next level and run for school board.

I urge you not to make any bold, foolish choices on Election Day, and put your support behind the proven experience of Keith Warnick, Katrina Collins, Jim Pfleger and me, Brad Parks. Thank you.

Bradford Parks
Candidate for Ferndale School Board

Patrick Dengate November 02, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Well, there is a lot here for the fact checkers! What I'll address is this absurd figure of $100,000 for a strategic plan. Huh?? The library recently completed a detailed strategic plan, with key objectives and a strategy map; a spreadsheet-based scorecard for management tracking and reporting on the objectives adopted by the library board; a list of institutional & community values; professional development/financial/other resources needed, etc. We had great input from staff, patrons, local officials, and trustees. I think we spent, maybe, $50 on coffee and bagels over the course of three meetings. Mr. Parks' figure is telling, though, and reflects how it is that the current board is used to operating. The board spent over $100,000 to a consultant to look into the Hayes-Lemmerz property and tell them—well, we don't know what they told them, that info wasn't released. I myself spent about 15 minutes online and found enough to tell me I would never, ever, want to have anything to do with that piece of property: Who owned it when; what was done there; where it ranks in the list of Michigan Superfund sites; the known toxic contaminants; the suspected contaminants. I don't think the current school board can claim they are especially effective cost-savers!
Bradford Parks November 02, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Patrick--At the two BOE committee meetings so far looking at a new strategic plan for the Ferndale school district, the current vendor quotes are between $50-$100K. The reason this seems higher than the library strategic plan is that Ferndale is a full-service school district, not a single building. To engage the entire Ferndale school community in a project of this magnitude will take at least a dozen public meetings, as opposed to, say, an afternoon coffee. Hope that helps.
Matt Nowaczok November 02, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Bradford - I hope all is well. Just a few follow-up questions: 1.) Can you please provide some documentation where CLEAR candidates have said that they would cut the $180,000 from the ICE contract. As far as I have understood they have wanted a more robust process put into place to ensure an arms-length transaction is occurring. A primary objective of good financial controls. 2.) Is the invoice for the consulting firm that indicates $100,000 for providing a strategic plan open to public disclosure? If so, can you please let me know where this RFQ can be located? 3.) Can you please let me know where in the financial statements the "tens of thousands of dollars" related to interest from school funding regulations is located? I see $9,613 of interest charged to the General Fund and not the Debt-Service Fund...is this the location of the interest charged? I have attached the financials for your review as I am curious. http://www.ferndaleschools.org/administration/links/transparency/Ferndale_Schools_AuditReport.pdf Thanks!
Todd Abrams November 02, 2012 at 02:28 PM
It’s unfortunate that the CBE endorsed candidates and their supporters can’t seem to argue their case without painting the CLEAR endorsed candidates as “radical”. And now a vote for BOLD is “foolish”? Language is a powerful tool, Mr. Parks. Perhaps you were just attempting to be clever with your closing paragraph but personally I felt nothing but disdain for the people who might not vote your way. For community leaders, experience doesn't trump demeanor. As a member of the school board, is it better to be openly confrontational to the superintendent and administration, which may not always be working toward the best interests of residents, or openly confrontational with the residents themselves, at least the foolish ones that did not vote for you?
Chris Mueller November 02, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Brad, you have asked in previous posts, and allude to it in this post, that Ferndale schools is unique in their ability to provide balanced budgets. “With the crazy economy... how many Oakland schools have a balanced budget...” –taken from CBE candidate Brad Parks on Ferndale Schools 10/10/12 The fact is...all but 4. Out of all the 549 Local Education Authorities state-wide only 45 (8%) are in deficit, and in Oakland County only 4 (14%) of the 29 districts submitted budgets that were in deficit. Brad, it also sounds to me like you feel strategic planning is a waste of time and money? Like me and all the other candidates that supported and worked diligently to see the school bond pass, many folks went through a complicated, thorough, sophisticated, and time consuming plan to ensure that the projects chosen for the bond were right for the district. Was this a waste of time and money, or was the process of carefully planning for our capital improvements an important piece of why our school bond passed? According to you, in the last forum you said there was nothing wrong with our 12-year-old strategic plan. Why was is so important to plan so strategically for our school bond, just one simple part of our school district's responsibility, but it is not important to update the strategic plan for all aspects of our district. Is our school bond more important than academic achievement, for example?
Bradford Parks November 02, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Matt-- Since the school board campaign started in June, The CLEAR team has repeatedly questioned the work the district is being paid for by the ICE contract. The CLEAR candidates during the candidate forum called the contract a "distraction" to the Superintendent in running the district that should be removed. CLEAR made no mention of how they would bring more funding to our school district to make up for this $180,000 cut. CLEAR members also said if elected they would renegotiate the contract with the district, as well as stating the Superintendent and administration were overpaid and should have their contracts renegotiated and changed to annual 1-year contracts. The RFP’s for the strategic plan ranged from $50,000 to $95,000. Those amounts are shown in the Policy Committee minutes. Per the school district Finance office, the $9,613 you noted in the financial statements for the year ending June 30, 2011, is interest for installment purchases and capital leases that include copiers, telephone equipment and buses. In regards to the borrowing I mentioned, according to the district Finance office, for the year ending June 30, 2011, borrowing fees on $3 million dollars, including fees and closing costs, were $67,860.33. So it is actually much more than the tens of thousands of dollars I had noted.
Bradford Parks November 02, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Chris-- I am in support of a a competitively priced updated strategic plan for the district. However, the CLEAR team has stressed throughout their campaign that the current plan from 2005 is not relevant to today's school environment, and somehow holding the district back. I read out loud some of the major dot points from the current plan at the last candidate forum, and the topics they cover - financing, student achievement, IT infrastructure, parent involvement - are the same things both sides have been talking about for this whole campaign. As far as a balanced budget - There has been only one other district in Oakland county (Lake Orion) that has not had to use their fund equity to balance its budget in the last 8 years. Happily, Ferndale has not had to do that--even during an economic downturn and with reduced school funding.
Fed Up with Ferndale Schools November 03, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Well said. Language is an extremely powerful tool and it has caused me to change my vote from the CBE candidates to the BOLD candidates. Every forum that I attend, every comment that I read, etc., the CBE slate, is either condescending, nasty or both. My biggest problem with the current school board (but it was not a large enough problem for me to originally consider voting for them) is that they pay little attention to what the residents of our district want. When you couple that with the nastiness that this campaign has brought about (and I must say that it all appears one sided to me), I know these are not the people I want making the decisions for my children's schools. Not having a great deal of experience is not always a bad thing. I'm willing to give the BOLD candidates my vote because they have taken the high road during this campaign and, to me, the respect that they have shown is worth a great deal more than the "experience" CBE likes to keep harping on.
Patrick Dengate November 03, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Your use of the term "afternoon coffee" attempts to demean & diminish the work of many talented people, and is also inaccurate. There were three large meetings, and then some smaller ones tweaking, refining, and drafting the final document. Granted, a school system is a larger entity than the library, but does that mean that the school board would necessarily need to spend 1000 times more money on developing a strategic plan than did the library? Is it necessary for the district to rely on high-priced consultants for this and other tasks?
Keith Warnick November 03, 2012 at 03:55 PM
We have (4) distinct arms of this district; K-12, University High School, Adult/Alternative Education and Ferndale Career Center. Nearly (400) employees; (10) buildings; $39 million budget; countless state and federal regulations to adhere to every day! It’s ridiculous for you to think we can do this for $50, coffee and donuts! To correct your Hayes-Lemmerz comments; the board, the entire board (not just three of us) allocated $100,000 for due diligence of the site for potential use as an Alternative Ed site and other district department usage to reduce our rent costs; collaborate with the city on building usage and consider other revenue generation going forward; (annual band shows with additional district parking south of our current lot.) It also would have given us control of the acreage to 8 mile. As it is now, someone else has that control. And we spent less than half of the authorized allocation to perform due diligence of suspected issues on the property. We than decided that the pursuit was not cost beneficial and suspended the studies. And I checked several Internet sites listing Michigan Superfund sites and did not find this property listed anywhere. http://www.epa.gov/region5superfund/npl/michigan/index.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Superfund_sites_in_Michigan http://www.cqs.com/super_mi.htm As for your last line; take a look at our budgets for the last 8 years. Positive balance every year. Very effective cost savers!
Keith Warnick November 03, 2012 at 06:42 PM
As a current school board member and President of the board, we work collaboratively with the Superintendent, administration, staff and community to do what is in the best interest of our customers; our students! I have witnessed and talked to boards that have a confrontational approach at the board table to administration and district leadership. Many of those districts are having financial or educational issues and rapid turnover of the leadership team and district staff. (The average superintendent length of service in Michigan-3 years.) Most of that comes from the need or want to micro-manage the district. All that does is bog down the progress a district is making and creates chaos and uncertainty with the staff. Take a look at the track record of this district over the years; look at the votes of the board, the FULL board, and you will see that the votes are unanimous probably more than 97% of the time. Collaboration works! Confrontation doesn’t!
Keith Warnick November 03, 2012 at 07:40 PM
An example: Farmington reduced their fund balance by $6.7 million in 2011-2012 to offset General Fund charges. They currently have set a range of 8% to 12% of budget for a fund balance but in their 2012-2013 budget they have allocated $11.4 million of fund balance to offset revenue shortfall. If you investigate the history of the past several years, not just one year, you will probably find this happening in many of the districts in Oakland County. In fact, since I was first elected in 2004, I believe only (2) districts, Ferndale and Lake Orion, have consistently balanced their budgets with positive fund balances at the end of each year. Regarding the LEA’s across the state, nearly 50 districts are running deficit budgets but the projection for the near future, with no expected FTE increases any time soon, is that number will double each of the next two years. Ferndale, since hiring Superintendent Meier, has looked at revenue first, not expenses, and worked through the process. We also have been able to offer our staff some small increases since they have been collaborative in working with us to maintain a positive budget. Many districts have implemented or demanded 5% to 10% salary reductions for staff! And facilitating a school bond is not a simple part of our responsibility! It’s a major responsibility that is constantly followed by our Operations Committee with regular status updates to the Board.
Keith Warnick November 03, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Regarding the ICE contract; it was stated at the CFF forum that the contract is “…..like a Chinese puzzle.” Too many layers and needs to be eliminated. Eliminating that also potentially eliminates Best Practices funds of more than $200,000. The process of accountability has been in place since the original contract between FPS and our partner, approved (3) years ago. No public comment or concern came about at that time. The language is nearly identical, with some former costs removed due to those services now being unnecessary. Regarding the Strategic Plan costs; numbers are available in the Policy Committee minutes which are nearly what Brad stated. The Policy meetings with the presentations were/are open meetings. Regarding interest fees; we borrowed $3 million this year, $4 million last year, $3.5 million the year before. We pay this off during the fiscal year but the interest and fees are grouped together with other loans from the state. I know that the total amount of that interest and other fees are quite a bit more than the number you state, nearly $70,000.
Patrick Dengate November 03, 2012 at 07:47 PM
In response to Keith Warnick's post above: I found the information on the Hayes-Lemmerz/Ethyl Corp. property here at http://www.deq.state.mi.us/part201/index.aspx The Superfund Program involves a State/federal partnership to cleanup some of the most complex and controversial sites in the country. "Part 201" refers to that part of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451 (as amended) dealing with environmental remediation. A Part 201 Listed site is a location that has been evaluated and scored by the MDEQ using the Part 201 scoring model. The location is or includes a "facility" as defined by Part 201, where there has been a release of a hazardous substance(s) in excess of the Part 201 residential criteria, and/or where corrective actions have not been completed under Part 201 to meet the applicable cleanup criteria for unrestricted residential use. The site at 8 Mile & Pinecrest is ranked #22 out of 48, and contaminants include cadmium, lead, tetrahydrofuran, and tetrachloromethane.
Greg Pawlica November 03, 2012 at 08:36 PM
WOW! I guess it takes an election and an on-line-news website in order for these conversations to take place, because they surely have never taken place at a school board meeting in the presence of the tax-paying residents...where they should. Power to the people!
Jodi Berger November 03, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Hi! I worry about the the Superintendent's contract (lack of disclosure and time-keeping, who's paying who and for what, etc.) but you should too! Didn't you (or another CBE candidate) say at the PTA forum that charter schools are the biggest challenge over the next five years? Gary Meier and co. are involved in setting these up in the Detroit area, right? I still feel that my analogy (Woodward Talk letter to editor this past summer) lends clarity to this: Would an owner of McDonald's want her manager setting up Arby's? (No.) Education is not a competition. It's set up to make our citizenship stronger. Charter schools don't solve the problems of public schools, are not better than public schools, they are just more profitable for their owners. Teachers have less pay, benefits, and often unfair working conditions (and higher turnover, leaving the students in worse shape). As for replacing the money ICE brings in, I'm sure BOLD can come up with plenty of solid alternatives, as they are proven researchers, thinkers, large-scale problem solvers, and great collaborators (they reach out to others in the community for ideas).
Jodi Berger November 03, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Amen brother!
Jodi Berger November 03, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Yes, but let's not apply 1999 solutions to 2012 challenges. We need to address neighborhood safety, digital learning, the lottery system, community investment, and more.
Keith Warnick November 07, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Actually they have taken place at an Open school Board meeting. You must have missed that meeting. Whenever there is discussion of the possible purchase of property, that can be discussed in closed session, according to the Open Meetings Act and the Attorney General. Whenever there is a request of authorization to make a bid on property, that, along with the amount decided, including amount to cover potential costs for due diligence, has to be approved in an open meeting, which it was and was unanimously approved. The full board originally approved this purchase bid.
Keith Warnick November 07, 2012 at 05:27 AM
@Jodi Berger Actually, the contract is for the creation of High Performing High Schools. University High School is not a Charter School. And actually, the original intent of Charter Schools was to offer something that was not offered at standard High Schools. We do that with UHS, a nationally recognized High School for innovative achievement. Of the current schools created, two are Charter Schools and Two are High Schools within DPS (Detroit Public Schools). The goal is to graduate urban students from college. We have had success with 85% college retention after one year and about 75% retention after two years. ACT scores are not necessarily a predictor of higher studentachievement.

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