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Posted on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Saline school board members look more closely at discretionary spending

By Danielle Arndt

Previous coverage: Saline freezes school board spending after 1 trustee spends $1,015

Saline Area Schools Trustee David Zimmer, whose spending came under fire earlier this month, was not the school board member who spent the most money this fiscal year on training courses, a report from Superintendent Scot Graden shows.

The expense report was generated and distributed to Saline board members at the request of Trustee David Holden. It outlines the Board of Education’s spending habits throughout the past five years.

David Holden Hi-Res Print Use-3.jpg

David Holden

Holden requested the information 27 hours prior to an April 10 board meeting, after President Lisa Slawson added an item to the agenda asking members to consider freezing their discretionary spending as a gesture to unions.

The district currently is in the middle of negotiations with its three collective bargaining units, the Saline Education Association, Saline Area Schools Administrators Association and the Saline Education Support Personnel. All three contracts will expire in June.

“I wanted some perspective,” Holden said of asking for a spending history. “I wanted to know what had been the norm prior to making a judgment.”

According to Graden’s report, to date, the board has spent $4,099.98 on Michigan Association of School Board training sessions and related expenses for the 2011-12 academic year, which began in July.

Of that amount, $1,758.02 can be attributed to Trustee Todd Carter, $1,026.70 to Slawson and $940 to Zimmer.

For comparison, the board spent $2,068.23 in 2010-11, $1,552.84 in 2009-10, $5,163.50 in 2008-09 and $2,955 in 2007-08.

At the April 10 meeting, Zimmer came under fire for his use of discretionary funds since taking office in January.

Holden said in an email Tuesday to that unfortunately, time constraints prevented his request for data from being fulfilled, and Slawson presented only a partial spending report from January-on to the board.

“This left the impression that Trustee David Zimmer had excessive expenses, acted in a fiscally irresponsible manner and was setting a precedent,” Holden wrote. “Now with a five-year history we can conclude that the claims against Zimmer were baseless in fact.”

Holden said the record needed to be set straight after the last board meeting. He said Zimmer should be commended for completing his Level 1 MASB training classes in such an efficient fashion.

“I don’t think (his spending) was characterized as frivolous, but that if you take the rate of his spending, it was an increased rate,” Slawson said in defense.


Lisa Slawson

Throughout the course of five years, from 2007 to the present, the board has spent about $15,850 in discretionary funds.

Slawson accounted for 28 percent or $4,429.28 of those funds during her two terms on the board. She also is currently the longest-serving member on Saline’s Board of Education.

Slawson said she “cannot thank the district enough” for giving her the opportunity to take the courses she has and to learn more about serving in education. Slawson recently was recognized as a “master board member,” the fourth of seven levels a school trustee can achieve through the MASB.

“I hope I have benefited the community through my learning and service on the board,” she said.

“I think it’s sad that people felt it was a personal attack on Mr. Zimmer,” she added of the last board meeting. “The original gesture to the staff has been lost.”

Slawson said her intent in making the motion was to show unions that the board is willing to make concessions, too, and believes in shared sacrifice.

“It should have been a non-issue.”

But Holden said, in the scheme of things, what the board spends on training, mileage and other miscellaneous items is trivial.

"It is unfortunate that the April 10 meeting degraded to the point where a trustee's integrity was brought into question,” he said. “It is time for the board to stop tripping over dollars to pick up pennies, and to focus on resolving the district's structural budget deficit and securing the educational future of our children."

He added if the board had slowed down and looked at the data ahead of time, the April 10 “brouhaha” never would have happened.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

(Continued, 3, & final) ...trot it out. The issue is not that any of this spending and reimbursement matters; it doesn't. It's miniscule and it's reasonable, given the many hours that board members invest. The issue is also not that cutting out these reimbursements would be a meaningful "olive branch" to the unions; it wouldn't. The issue is this: Lisa Slawson tried to bully Zimmer for some reason, masking it as a show of good faith to the unions. Hmmm, let's see, curry favor with the unions by attacking Zimmer, a deficit hawk who may argue convincingly for union concessions in upcoming budget talks. There it is folks. Union-advancing politics, more of what put us where we are financially. Slawson's final two cents: "It should have been a non-issue." Well, Ms. Slawson, if you had pulled the issue until you had all the facts and then dropped it, or if you had simply kept it about spending in general instead of singling out Mr. Zimmer, it would probably have been just that: "a non-issue." A meaningless, misleading token at best, but a non-issue. Instead, you went ahead with your attack on Mr. Zimmer and you tipped your hand. So now that we know what you are doing, Ms. Slawson, quit bullying your fellow board members in order to curry favor with the unions; focus on real issues that will improve the financial prospects of the district. Fight for the students and the parents. You represent them, not the unions.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

(Continued, 2) ...Slawson herself. Slawson is now defending herself by saying that it was the "increased rate" of Zimmer's spending that was the problem. Oh, really? Todd Carter spent almost double in nine months (July - end of March) what Zimmer spent in three, $1, 758 vs. $940. That's a $195/mo. pro rata run-rate for Carter vs. $313/mo. for Zimmer, a difference of $118/mo. So, essentially, Slawson and Cattell tried to put Zimmer in the stocks for spending $118 more per month than Carter on training that they were both supposed to get. To put this in perspective, each class costs $95, so Zimmer completed about three classes per month instead of Carter's two. Ooh, let's call for a special prosecutor! The difference is truly insignificant, but for some reason Slawson is still only talking about Zimmer's "rate" of spending. Gee, I wonder why? The fact that Slawson is still attacking Zimmer on his "rate" of spending obviates the only other come-back left to her, which would be that she didn't know that at the time of the meeting, since she hadn't looked at the MASB spending for the whole fiscal year. Well, now she knows, but tellingly she's still singling out Zimmer. That makes her look bad. Clearly, she should originally have pulled the issue until those records could be consulted? Why didn't she? The reason has to be that she saw an opportunity to damage Zimmer in the public eye and, impulsively, she took it (also shortsightedly, as it turns out). She can't admit her motive, however, so now she has to split hairs about the "increased rate" of the spending, which doesn't wash, as I show above. It's all she's got left, though, so she has to trot it out. (To be Continued)


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 6 p.m.

I find it highly amusing to watch Lisa Slawson walking back her and Amy Cattell's now backfiring attempt to shame David Zimmer over his MASB training costs. Earlier this month, she "brought forward the initiative" to freeze the board reimbursements after "she had discovered that Zimmer had completed" $940 worth of MASB courses (see this April 11 article at She made quite a point, at that time, of highlighting her assertion that "Zimmer's MASB courses account for about one-third of what the board as a whole has spent to date this fiscal year." As one other commenter here noted, Ms. Cattell then ran the 'let's get Zimmer' ball further down the field, asking Zimmer indignantly "how did this happen? This is fiscally responsible?" Cattell then huffed, "This has never happened before." And now we discover the truth, the truth that Mr. Holden was trying to get at when he asked Slawson for historical records on board member spending prior to the April 10 meeting, records that Slawson said she had not had time to produce by the time of the meeting, namely that both Todd Carter and Ms. Slawson herself had both spent more than Zimmer on MASB courses this fiscal year. The irony is blinding: Zimmer busts his tail to get this training done in less time, and what's his reward? Slawson and Cattell try to put him in the stocks in front of City Hall for spending less on MASB training this fiscal year than Slawson herself! (To be Coninued)

Jimmy Olsen

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

@snoopdog...the "slush fund" was never at 25 million dollars in the mid-nineties. That would have been over 50% of the entire budget back then. This inaccurate "fact" has been circulating for sometime in the blog sphere, but it is not true.

Jimmy Olsen

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

@scylding...the numbers were from an old handout i found from a community budget meeting, which is why they end in 2009. The $$ figures were posted on the SAS web-site a year or so ago when this 25 million dollar figure started to be tossed around, but i keep getting web-errors when i try to find the figures there. you are correct a very sad state of affairs.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

@Jimmy: Well, assuming you are right, it's still a very sad state of affairs to have gone from the figure that you suggest for 1998 to where we are today. You never did cite your source, however.

Jimmy Olsen

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:23 a.m.

Scylding...these are Fund Balance if you do the math and assume 50 million dollar budget for all years (which is not true) but the peak of 15.1% in 1998 would only yield a 7.5 million fund balance. the numbers are 93-12%, 94-7.5%, 95-8.8% ,96-10.2%, 97-12.9%, 98-15.1%, 99-13.7%, 2000-12.5%, 01-9.7%, 02-8.9%, 03-9.7%, 04-9.4%, 05-7.2%, 06-4.4%, 07-7.0%, 08-6.9%, 09-6.1%


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

@Jimmy: so what was the slush fund at its peak and when was that? Got an authoritative source? You must know, since you say Snoopdog's figure is wrong.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 1:14 a.m.

Lisa, I would like to ask you a question, then make a statement which you may want to respond to if so inclined. Based on the past many months, you have become in my opinion a divider and not a uniter. Since when did the "Saline School Board" become your "bully pulpit" ? You act as if, since you are the "senior" member of the school board that you are free to make inaccurate statements about other school board members and when the facts come out, you look worse than those you implicate. Your statements are just borderline short of slander in my opinion, how would you expect your co-workers or anyone else react to that ? I find it very troubling and find your behavior divisive. I tend to be cynical and non trusting, I go with facts from the past , it appears to me that you are now moving into the MEA camp and trying to divide the BOE. You should know better Lisa, the "slush fund" has dwindled from 25 million in the mid nineties to just over a million dollars today. You have been on the school board for roughly 25% of that time and somewhere around 4 million dollars has gone "poof" under your leadership. Where did it go Lisa ? You are not a problem solver , you are part of the problem in my opinion. Good Day


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 12:29 a.m.

Lisa said: " I hope I have benefited the community through my learning and service on the board". Uh, Lisa, I am confused as a taxpayer in Saline. Last month you beat up Mr. Zimmer over taking classes to get certified to meet the goals of the BOA and said his reimbursment was excessive. Now we find out that your spending over the past 4 years was far higher than his. I would suggest that this does not pass the "smell test". How many years have you been on the school board , I should know but I think the answer is around 8. Being on the school board for as long as you have, I find you part of the problem, not part of the solution. What have you done in your years to solve the financial crisis that the Saline schools are now facing ? Quoting you above, I would say the answer to your question is a rousounding and loud, NO ! Go Green Go White

the leprachaun

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

I think it's ironic how Slauson was complaining how much Zimmer spent even thought she spent more...

Ron Granger

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Clearly, Zimmer comes out smelling like roses. It looks like he has been smeared by board members who are trying to create a distraction, with drama and circus. Some others come out not smelling so rosey. Shame. Going back to the previous article, I take great issue with Amy Cattell, and Slawson's statements. Slawson initiated this stupid fiasco of a distraction, and Amy Cattell piled on to form a herd. "What I am wondering is how did this happen?" Cattell asked Zimmer. "This is fiscally responsible? … This has never happened before." "Slawson brought forward the initiative"

Ron Granger

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

And just to add, Slawson as the President with lots of experience, surely knew better. To stir this up, without all the facts, was surely intentional. She should be removed at the next election for wasting everyone's time with this distraction in the form of a baseless personal attack and smear.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

Ms. Slawson, as a resident of the Saline Area School District, my understanding of your (and Ms Catrell's) response was that of an accusatory nature regarding Mr. Zimmers pursuit of education, training, and certification relative to his position on the School Board. I would suggest that you focus on issues that are currently present and affecting our students, teachers and community rather than attempt to degrade a fellow board member who has obviously taken his election quite seriously by pursuing this additional training, as was both requested and authorized by the board and administration.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

If he belonged to the afscme union he would have been fired by now.