Monday, December 2, 2019

Thanksgiving and Aspiration

It's the season for giving thanks and reflecting upon that which we are given.  In this season, I've had some personal time to think about a lot of things for which I am extremely grateful.  This includes my amazing family and network of friends and extended family who support me in all that I do.  It's a good reminder that people are always the foundation upon which we build ourselves.  I'm a lucky person in that regard who has always been surrounded by awesome people.

I've also had time to reflect upon the innumerable blessings that I have professionally as the superintendent of this remarkable school district.  It's been an amazing (and fast!) several years and so much has happened!  I'm proud of what we have done and are doing every day in Benzie Central.  Husky Pride is alive and well and I am continuously amazed daily by the efforts of our staff and the accomplishments of our kids.

I believe it's important to take time in life to take stock of what you have, be grateful for what has been given, and ultimately to take some satisfaction in the jobs well done, the relationships forged, and the achievements we each have accomplished.  Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to look backward, smile, and remember that for which we can be proud.

With all of that said though - it's important for us all to remember that looking backward can only get us so far.  Humility must be balanced with aspiration.  Contentment must be challenged by risk.  And past accomplishment will fade away if we do not challenge ourselves to a better future.

We should enjoy the moments of pride that come in taking stock of a life well spent.  But this cannot take the bulk of our time.  Indeed, I look forward to continuing to expend my own time and energy looking forward to that which can be rather than looking back to that which was and is now over.

Benzie Central has much to be proud of.  But there is much out there that can still be done.  We have potential which is not yet realized.  The most important jobs are never truly done...

I hope you join me in looking forward to the promising future with a grateful heart for memories past.



Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Moving Forward

By now, most are well aware of the results of our bond election last night.  We suffered another narrow defeat - a margin of 101 votes amidst a larger turnout with over 3200 votes cast.  But there are no "moral victories" in elections.  These issues either pass or don't, and the voters have spoken.

That said - I will continue to repeat what I have said since the beginning of this process.  Our school district has real needs for upgrades.  Needs that were identified after professional study, input from community, and careful consideration by stakeholders from all around the district.  And the simple fact is this - these needs are not going away.

I know many who read this already believe that Benzie is worth the investment.  But if you don't count yourself among those who believe this - consider the following...

We are financially responsible:  Benzie Central is ranked 554th in the state in our per pupil overall funding out of 825 public and charter schools.  We are on the bottom tier.  We are surrounded by districts that are "out of formula" and receive FAR more per pupil than we do (Glen Lake is ranked 27th and Frankfort 57th).  Despite these challenges, we have taken steps to cut overhead spending, and have established a balanced budget and a healthy fund balance.  Indeed, we also rank a lean 578th in administrative spending per pupil as well.  Our financial practices have been consistently praised by outside auditors.

Yet we offer amazing opportunities:  Benzie outpaces most other regional districts of similar and smaller size with regard to what we offer our students.  We not only offer many AP courses, our students consistently score well on AP tests granting them college credit.  We are also one of the only schools in our region with our own early college program (newly started in 2019) in partnership with Baker College.  We have more elective, arts, and enrichment opportunities than many schools far larger than us with thriving vocal music, instrumental music (including marching and jazz bands), theatre, visual arts, robotics, and much much more.  And our athletic programs are wide and varied providing participation opportunities for virtually any child in our school system.

We are committed to improvement:  Benzie Central staff have been working extremely hard alongside our leadership team to seek means of improving upon our teaching and instruction that forms the foundation of what we do every day.  We have partnered with MiExcel and the TBAISD organizations to challenge our status quo and become more "systems oriented" in our work every day.  Our board of education has committed to this work as well, engaging deeply in training and planning to be more strategic and intentional in our approach.  We have been recognized at the state level for this work and have been invited to present at statewide conferences to share our successes with others looking to duplicate our efforts.

We live in the most beautiful part of the most beautiful state in the USA.  We need to make sure that our community will continue to thrive and reach for a better future. 

I believe in Benzie Central.  Let's get back to work and find that path forward.





Monday, November 4, 2019

Decision Time!

The word is out, the articles have been written, the brochures have been passed out, the meetings have been held, the news has been broadcast, and it all has lead up to the moment at hand.

It's nearly decision time...

Tomorrow, November 5th, 2019, Benzie Central Schools are asking for a crucial and historic bond proposal election.  My hope is that the facts are in and that everyone has had opportunity to consider the question and determine their vote.  If you are still thinking about your vote and need more information - please click here to learn more!

Now we wait...

But we don't have to wait passively!  Let's help one another get the word out.  Everyone has a job on voting day.  Your job is to help remind your family, friends, and neighbors to be active participants in the process.  And technology makes this so much easier!  Let's make this an active turnout and make the voice of our community heard!

- Share info about the vote on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)
- Text and remind your friends and family in your contact list from the district
- Remind your coworkers to stop by the polling place on the way home
- Vote early and wear your "I VOTED" sticker all over the county

Remember, elections are decided by those who show up and vote.  Make sure you're one of them!!!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Historic Decisions

Some time ago, I had occasion to look back into old minutes of Board of Education meetings from the early 1960's, when the local smaller school districts were first considering consolidation into what is now Benzie County Central Schools.  As one can imagine, it was not a decision that was made lightly, nor was it without controversy.  Indeed, there were many tough meetings, there was a great deal of consternation, and our community struggled mightily before coming to the decision to form our district as we know it today.

Over the past 50+ years, we have evolved into a district that not only is a bedrock of our community and region, but one that affords opportunities for our students that many other comparable rural districts cannot or do not provide.  One only needs to look at some of our alumni to quickly ascertain that a student from Benzie Central can go anywhere and become anything.  Our class offerings, our athletic programs, our arts and performance programs, and our wide variety of extra-curricular opportunities rival districts much larger than ours while maintaining the intimate, small community feel that we would expect from a rural Northern Michigan school district.

Now, after that 50+ years of development, we stand at a crossroads.  The question of the bond proposal before our community is in many ways a question of identity.  It's a question of who we are and what we want to be.  Our buildings are aging, our infrastructure is in need of major work, and the resources required to do the work are significant.  The path forward to is ask you, our community, for your support.

In 1962, our region stepped forward, took some risks, and created something remarkable that was designed to stand the test of time.  Here in 2019, we stand before you asking again to be a part of something that will withstand the test of time and help us continue to grow and evolve.  We have an opportunity to shape not only the future of our kids, but indeed, the future of our community as a whole.

A strong school district comes from a strong community of support.  And indeed, once that strong district is established, it can serve as a foundation to maintain and further strengthen a community for generations.  Now is the time to act.

Please be sure to make your voice heard and VOTE November 5th!











Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ballot Language Explained

Something that often comes up in ballot questions like our upcoming November 5th bond proposal is the nature of the language.  Many have remarked to me that the language is at least somewhat confusing.  Often folks wonder why it can't just be a bit more clear and simple!

The short answer to why the bond language is the way it is presented is that it is due to legal issues that have played out over the years, resulting in requirements that often times come across as complicated or strange to the layperson seeking to make an informed decision.  This is why we have worked hard as a district to educate our community through in-person forums, news media, mailings, and other forums (including blogs like this one). 

One example of this is surrounding the first lines of our Nov. 5th ballot question, which reads as follows...

Shall Benzie County Central Schools, Benzie, Manistee, Grand Traverse, and Wexford Counties, Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed forty-seven million eight-hundred and fifty thousand ($47,850,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds therefor, in one or more series, for the purpose of...

A major question often is why are 4 counties listed on the ballot question?  Folks often wonder if this means that our taxes are shared with other districts, or if we are collecting taxes from beyond our district.

The answer to this questions is really quite simple, but often unrealized.  Benzie County Central Schools district boundaries go beyond Benzie County lines!  Indeed, our district has significant portions of Northern Manistee County within our district as well as relatively small portions of Wexford and Grand Traverse Counties in the Southeastern portion of our district.  In fact - one of our buildings, Betsie Valley Elementary, is actually located in Manistee County!

It is required for school districts to list each county in which they have any property at all on any ballot question.  So there you have it - we are required to list 4 counties on our ballot.  But rest assured, this bond ONLY impacts those residents within our DISTRICT boundaries and the bond funds will benefit ONLY Benzie Central Schools - not other neighboring districts.

In addition, I have had people ask about the language above referring to general obligation unlimited tax bonds.  Often people misperceive this language as giving the district the right to collect as much tax as we'd like!  This, of course, is not the case.  The bond question specifically authorizes the district to borrow up to 47.85 million dollars only.  We then are obligated to levy a millage to pay back those bonds at the term set (26 years).  This results in the millage rates that we have widely distributed and discussed - a total levy of 2.98 mills (an increase of less than 1/2 of a mill from our current levy of 2.5 mills).

We recognize that ballot language can be confusing, and as such, have worked with our bond attorney and the state treasury department to make the language as clear and concise as legally allowed while still accomplishing what is needed for the project.

As always, I encourage anyone with any questions to reach out to me directly at (231) 882-9653 or email me at olsonmp@benzieschools.net.  I'm happy to answer any questions!

Thanks for reading and please remember to VOTE NOVEMBER 5th!!!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Outperforming Expectations

I believe strongly that Benzie Central Schools are a solid investment given what we do for our kids.  Yet that belief isn't enough.  It's important to have hard data to back that claim up.

Today, the statewide news agency MLive published an article that really brings home why our school district stands out among the hundreds of other districts in the state of Michigan.  The subject of the article was performance on SAT by high schools where greater than half of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.  The SAT is one of the nations oldest, most respected, and most reliable measures of student achievement.

It's no secret that our region has economic struggles and that many of our students come from circumstances where resources are scarce.  Poverty in our region is real and presents many challenges for our schools, many of our families, and our overall community.  But it's important for us all to remember that these challenges do NOT have to determine our fate, or more importantly, the fate of our children. 

The article notes that 447 public high schools in the state of Michigan had a junior class where over 50% of the juniors who took the SAT qualified for subsidized lunch.  Out of those 447 schools, only 24 exceeded state averages on the SAT exam overall. 

Benzie Central was among the 24.   That's the top 5%.

Exceeding expectations is something that we are proud of at Benzie Central.  Such performance on the SAT is reflective of years of preparation and is something that our entire staff, from preschool to high school, can and should be proud of.  And it's not the first time.  We have been recognized many times, in many different ways over the years for exemplary performance and exceeding expectations.

We have challenges in our district to be sure.  But Benzie Central refuses to let those challenges define us.  This exemplifies why I'm proud to be a Husky.

And you should be too!

Click for the Full Article











Thursday, August 22, 2019

As we get closer to the critical bond proposal vote in November, I'd like to take the occasional opportunity to provide information and clarification regarding questions and concerns brought forth in the community.  
One of those points of confusion surrounding bond proposal votes often is the bond monies themselves. What can they or can't they be legally used for???
Generally speaking, a bond is the mechanism by which school districts pay for large-scale projects, including new facilities and major renovations. All bond proposals are approved by the state only for a set scope of projects and nothing more. Once a bond proposal is passed, the school district sells one or more bonds in the authorized amount and uses those funds to pay for only the projects listed in the proposal.  
In this way, bonds are not unlike a mortgage on a home as they are typically paid off over the course of 20-30 years. Just as most homebuyers cannot afford to buy a home outright, the vast majority of school districts fund new and renovated facilities using bonds.
Bond funds cannot be used for employee salaries or employee compensation of any kind. In addition, bond funds cannot be used for operating costs including the costs for basic repair and maintenance.  For instance, we could use bond funds to replace HVAC systems in our building, but could not use bond funds to change out our furnace filters in buildings.  Bond funds can only be used for new construction, additions, renovations, energy conservation improvements, land purchases, bus purchases, site development, debt refunding and direct bond program costs (professional fees, audit fees, etc.)
Michigan is somewhat unique as we are among a handful of states that does not directly provide for capital projects / expenditures except through locally passed millages.  Therefore, the vast majority of districts levy some sort of millage to pay for bonds to fund major projects.  The average millage for such projects in our state runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-5.5 mills.
As always, please feel free to contact me at olsonmp@benzieschools.net or call our Central Offices at (231) 882-9653 if you have any further questions.  Go Huskies!