Dexter-Whitmore Lake annexation needs assistance from state to continue

The Dexter Board of Education is pausing before making any decisions about whether or not to annex Whitmore Lake Public Schools.

After listening to initial findings from an ad hoc committee on the issue, the board of education is taking the next two weeks to “digest” the information presented at their regular meeting Feb. 23.

Board member and ad hoc committee member Daryl Kipke presented the findings of phase one of the group, which identified the key risks and benefits to annexing the neighboring school district. The most prominent risk in the minds of several board members was the question of finance.

“In order for annexation to be wildly successful and mitigate all these risks, it needs to be appropriately resourced,” Kipke said. “We can’t annex on the cheap.”

According to the phase one findings of the ad hoc committee, the cost of additional programs and staffing needed for annexation exceeds the amount gained through the process. The annexation process would only mean an additional revenue of $420,000.  On top of that, Dexter’s $6 million fund balance greatly exceeds Whitmore Lake’s and would be largely funding the annexation itself.

“I see the potential long-term benefit and it’s pretty attractive,” Kipke said. “I see the risks associated, the primary risk of it just being under resourced at this point.”

I’m really concerned that the financial structural problem would just create significant risk in the near term.”

Board President Michael Wendorf emphasized that regardless of the outcome of the annexation talks, Dexter schools will face funding shortfalls in the near future. This year the district is facing a $44 per pupil cut in funding from the State of Michigan Foundation Allowance, which accounts for the majority of the school’s day-to-day operating budget.

“Funding will be an issue for our district as a stand alone district,” he said.

Ad hoc committee member Jennifer Kangas echoed Wendorf’s sentiments and said she feels it’s time for community members to step up and demand education reform at the state level.

“We need more money,” she said. “We need to go to the state. We need to demand more money for our kids.”

Superintendent Chris Timmis stressed that the district would need funding from the state to make an annexation viable.

“If (the state is) really interested, it changes the content of the conversation,” he said.

Currently the district is applying for a portion of a $2-million grant to support consolidation efforts with Whitmore Lake, which could be applied to a potential annexation.

According to Timmis, however, the grant won’t cover the costs. At this point the next step in securing funding lies with state legislators, something that has no timeline and would be a mix of bills and law changes.

“The conversations have been happening up there for a while, but I’m not sure where they’re headed,” he said.

The Dexter Board of Education will reconvene at 7 p.m. March 9 at Creekside Middle School and will decide whether to have the ad hoc committee continue its study or wait for a response from the state.

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