Board to vote March 25 to put $76M bond on ballot

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Dearborn Public Schools has a “good” problem to deal with, Communications Coordinator David Mustonen said during a recent school board meeting.

At a time when people are moving out of state, schools are losing students and state funding, DPS is gaining more students – and has for the past 25 years.

Student growth was one of many reasons school officials asked DPS Board of Education trustees to consider putting a $76 million bond renewal – for building updates, maintenance and safety – on an upcoming ballot.

During a March 11 DPS School Board meeting, Mustonen presented the idea before the board. The board may approve the resolution to put the proposal on the August or November ballot during the next board meeting March 25.

The $76 million proposed Security, Maintenance, Additions, Renovation, Technology and Transporttion Bond would go toward disctrict-wide security updates with costs at $6 million for maintenance, $8 million for grounds, $3.6 million for 30 new buses and several other multi-million-dollar plans including technology updates and projects.

The 20-year proposed bond would not increase local property taxes and the 5.81 mills would replace other bonds.
Homeowners would not see a change in their tax bills if the bond is approved.

Mustonen said although it is a good thing that more students are moving into the district, more students equals more wear and tear in the schools.

“Growth is good, that is a good thing,” Mustonen said during the meeting. “People want their kids to come to schools here. At the same time, along with that growth, comes some issues of capacity. We’ve got schools reaching that capacity level and some that may even be a little bit over it.”

Mustonen said in the past 25 years DPS has gained more than 6,800 students. Since 2000, about 2,400 new students attended DPS.

In addition to growth, the district has not purchased new buses in the last four years. The district operates a fleet of 100 buses. The average lifespan of a bus is nine years. Many DPS buses are well past their expiration date, Mustonen said.

Another update with the bond includes renovating the district’s 35 buildings.

In the past the district had between $4 and $5 million set aside to address maintenance issues. Because of statewide budget cuts, the district has about a $1 million to spend on maintenance, Mustonen said.

“We’ve not been able to commit that same dollar amount toward that very important issue of maintenance of our buildings,” Mustonen said. “Because of the excellence we have established here in our district, that is not the way we want to do things here.”

Other proposals include putting in a buzzer entry system and video monitors in administration offices in the schools. Mustonen said school safety is a top priority.

“School safety has been on the minds of educators, students and parents,” Mustonen said. “We’ve been asked by our parents to look at our schools and address school safety.”

Every school will receive new lockers, carpets and windows if the bond proposal is approved by board trustees and residents.

2002 was the last time DPS officials requested a bond of $150 million, which voters approved to borrow for technology and buildings.

During the meeting, DPS Supt. Brian Whiston said he and other community and school groups hope that the school board approves the bond proposal soon so the proposal can be placed on the August primary ballot.

Trustee James Schoolmaster asked if Whiston could explain why August was a preferable time over the general election in November.

Whiston said district officials are looking at eliminating 20 or 25 staff and faculty positions by next year.

“If we don’t get the bond, we are looking at doubling that,” he said.

Mustonen said for next school year’s 2013-14 budget, the district will have to reduce its budget by $5 to $6 million and staff positions could be eliminated.

“Part of the planning for that would be to eliminate staff positions,” he said.

Mustonen said the district could lay off between 20 and 40 staff members. Mustonen said if the bond proposal is passed, a portion of the money could be used on maintenance, leaving general fund dollars available, which would mean fewer reductions in staff.

“It is kind of related to the bond but not really,” he said. “It has more to do with long-range plannig for the next (school) year.”

Whiston said school officials will know what their staffing levels are after the bond is voted on.

The March 25 board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Administrative Service Center, 18700 Audette.