School district's projected deficit grows

Lisa Hammer

Unforeseen expenses have doubled this year’s projected deficit in the Orion district from $150,000 at the start of the school year to between $300,000 and $400,000, school board members learned on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Superintendent David Deets said the increase is due in part to an $85,000 drop in revenue from the initial projection. Also, the district needed to hire a full-time special education aide.

He said there are no plans to raise taxes, however.

“There is still enough solvency in all funds to handle it,” he said, adding such deficits can’t go on. “We don’t want it to continue. We don’t want to add to it.”

He said teacher retirements in the next couple of years will ease the shortage in the education fund, and he also pointed out the district is getting ready to negotiate a new contract with staff.

Although construction money—which could have been used at C.R. Hanna Elementary School and Orion High School—was eliminated from the federal stimulus money for schools, Orion is receiving a $100,000 IDEA grant for special education, Response to Intervention testing, and operation of a before- and after-school program for two years. 

The Response to Intervention program provides extra help for students without placing them in special education. 

Mr. Deets said the downside is that the district may not have enough funds to continue the program after two years.

“So it’s really kind of tricky where we’re going to spend this stimulus money without backing ourselves in a corner,” he said.

AlWood parent Toni Beck addressed the board to ask that AlWood soccer players join the Orion-Sherrard soccer team. 

The parent of a freshman who has nowhere to play, she said school officials in all three districts don’t seem to have an objection. 

Board president Doug Nelson said he would provide a timetable for a definitive answer by the end of the week.

Parent Vicki Tennant addressed the board on finances. She asked them to keep the effect on local taxpayers in mind when resolving budget issues.

“They’re the ones footing the bills,” she said, adding that Orion can’t count on state aid.

Deets said the district is developing an aggressive strategy to reduce energy consumption that could save up to 15 percent of energy costs, up to $40,000.

C.R. Hanna will begin surveying parents to determine interest in before- and after-school child care. Noting the Y.M.C.A.’s program was discontinued, principal R.C. Lowe said the situation today may be different.

“There are a lot more working families, I understand, from what there have been in the past,” he said.

The board approved Shive Hattery’s $25,500 bid for architectural work to replace the grade school roof. The project is to be awarded this spring and completed by July 31. 

Plans for the C.R. Hanna playground/parking lot project were withdrawn “for clarification issues.”

In other business

The school board:

• dismissed Carl Nelson as part-time technology instructor as well as an Orion Middle School track coach who was attending college, accepted the resignation of John McBride as golf coach and hired Bruce Redding as Orion High School head boys’ track coach, Mike Gavin as assistant high school track coach, Todd Rittenhouse, Ian Scott and Amber Spranger as middle school track coaches, Jill Filler as assistant high school softball coach and Tyler Radosevich as athletic groundskeeper

• approved the purchase of a 65-passenger bus for $55,180 after trade-in; the district received more than $11,000 over the original cost on the old bus, with depreciation reimbursement and trade-in allowance

• approved the low bid of $32,775 for a Chevrolet Suburban from an Indianapolis dealer following a lengthy discussion on the legal requirement to approve the lowest “responsible” bid

• noted kindergarten pre-registration is Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17

• noted the 10th annual Orion Education Foundation spring gala is Friday, March 27, at the Milan Community Center

• learned ISAT testing is starting Monday, March 2, at C.R. Hanna

• discussed starting the school year Monday, Aug. 17, and finishing first-semester exams before the Christmas holiday to coordinate with AlWood and Cambridge schedules

• discussed trying additional Response to Intervention tests this year, as the current DIBLES tool assesses fluency only, not comprehension or math

• learned the district received 110 applications for three teaching positions.