Okemos Public School's count day, budgets and planning 2014

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By Michelle Ghafari
The Meridian Times

The first Wednesday of October is recognized as count day in Michigan. Okemos Public School’s record of about 4,000 students recently noted an increase of over 100 pupils.

“They don’t need extra incentives to come. We have a really supportive community and value education so parents send their kids to school,” said the Okemos Public Schools treasurer Vincent Lyon-Callo.

Although this year’s first attendance count will increase the state support this does not necessarily create an easy way for communities to plan and form overall education budgets.

Trustee of the Okemos Education Foundation, Ron Styka said, “That would mean more than $800,000 more for the budget. However, remember that there are expenditures required for each student that can exceed the amount the state provides. Also, the districts did not get a per pupil increase sufficient to match rising costs. So in the end there may be less money in the budget than is needed. ”

Chair of the Okemos Education Foundation Dean Bolton said “You know it’s a big problem to try and formulate a budget every year not knowing exactly what funds you have to work with.”

Bolton said when the board of education made the budget for this year, the board members based their plans on the assumption that Okemos Public Schools would have an increase of approximately 50 or more students.

“So the fact that it looks like we are going to have 100 or so more students is good news because obviously that means there is more revenue than what the budget was based on, but of course with that revenue comes cost…but there is no doubt still that it’s good news compared to if we were actually at a loss,” said Bolton.

Counts can be deceiving. The costs Bolton mentioned can also include classroom supplies, classroom space, and educational engagement.

Lyon-Callo said that when Okemos Public Schools could not afford to buy new books, they relied on a community group to donate money. In response to the current student increase, Lyon-Callo said, “we don’t have the money to buy basic supplies like desks, so we’re scratching around to try and find old desks.”

Even without being fully aware of what pension costs Okemos Public Schools may receive after this count day the superintendent and many individuals working on the board of education are constantly looking for ways to deal with the budget and they often create a list of projected general operating funds.

“In a sense we have a good financial team that works for the district. We have a director of finance and our superintendent also has a background in finance and so with their leadership there is always a plan,” said Bolton.

Members on the Meridian Township Board have also worked to support Okemos Public Schools and other schools in the area. The township board strives to help Okemos continue to have a positive educational reputation.

“When we’ve polled our residents what we find over and over again in our surveys is that something like 60 or 70 percent of the people who live here are living here because of the quality of the school districts that we have,” said Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie.

Planning is a big part of how this community deals with what expected budgets will be but budgets are not the citizens’ only concern.

“The main issue with budgets starts at the funding, but my concern is how do you maintain high- quality professionals if you don’t compensate them at a decent rate and what type of education are we going to have if we don’t value education, educators?” said Lyon-Callo.

Bolton credits teachers, parents and dedicated students for being able to maintain high educational standards while facing remaining funding challenges.

Lyon-Callo says Okemos is a privileged district relatively well off financially with the support of the communities’ funds. “Those services allow us to provide above and beyond what the per pupil allowance of the state comes in at. I can’t imagine what districts that don’t have that are doing in the state” said Lyon-Callo.

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