Board seeks input for bond election

By SHERRI KOLADE
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — After approving a $76 million bond renewal proposal, the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education trustees need to decide whether to put it on the August or November ballot.

During a March 25 board meeting the trustees unanimously approved placing the Security, Maintenance, Additions, Renovation, Technology and Transportation bond renewal on a future balot.

The next move is for trustees to vote, during a meeting May 20 at Henry Ford Community College, on whether to place the bond renewal proposal — which would improve DPS’s overall infrastructure — on the Aug. 6 primary ballot or Nov. 5 general election ballot.

All seven trustees were in attendance during the board meeting March 25, and several of them discussed the pros and cons of placing the proposal on either ballot.

During a March 11 board meeting, DPS Communications Coordinator David Mustonen presented the bond renewal proposal before the board.

The bond proposal would go toward district-wide security updates with costs at $600,000 for security improvement projects, $800,000 for maintenance, $3.6 million for 30 new buses, $12 million for technology and the rest earmarked for additional projects.

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

Several trustees had different opinions about which ballot the proposal should be placed on.

Trustee Aimee Schoelles said some residents felt if the bond were placed on the August primary election, the trustees would be trying to “cover up” something because historically, a lot of voters do not vote during the primary and history may repeat itself.

“I think it is a very good point,” she said, “something all of us can stand behind and explain to the public without hesitation about what this bond is about.”

Schoelles added that because a smaller number of people vote at the primary, the board should vote to have the bond proposal placed on the November ballot.

“I don’t want it to appear to our public that we don’t want everyone to vote on it,” Schoelles said.

Trustee Roxanne McDonald said she agrees with Schoelles about transparency, but she thinks that voters shouldn’t be rewarded for “bad behavior” because they choose to vote only during the general election.

“I think we do have some timing issues and it is very important that we take care of our students,” she said. “We have the position of balancing the needs of our students with the desires of the public. We are responsible for both of those entities and I want to keep in mind that I think that it is (the responsibility) of every voter to be informed. That means all elections, not just the general election.”

McDonald added that “it is in the best interest of our students” if the trustees voted to put the proposal on the August ballot because if the proposal passes in August, the schools can receive necessary improvements sooner.

“We are putting a lot of weight with the bad habits of voters,” she said.

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 past their lifespan date, which subsequently means more repair costs, Schoelles said.

Updates with the bond also include renovating the district’s 35 buildings. In previous years the district had between $4 and $5 million set aside for maintenance issues, Mustonen said during the meeting. Because of statewide budget cuts, the district has about $1 million to spend on maintenance and other types of “reactionary” spending, Mustonen said.

Every school would have some sort of renovation, including new lockers, carpets and windows.

The last time DPS officials requested a levy was 2002, when voters approved $150 million to borrow for technology and buildings.

Even if the levy passes, 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. Supt. Brian Whiston said the district could lay off dozens of staff members.

“We know we are going to have 25 to 30 layoffs no matter what we do,” he said. “The bond could impact a number of layoffs depending on when we do this.”

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.

Trustee Mary Lane said because the economy is not as robust as she would like, she wants to make sure the $76 million bond proposal is a frugal figure.

“I’d like the numbers to be as tight as possible and worked down as much as possible,” she said. “I don’t want a bunch of sweeteners in.”

Trustee Joseph Guido agreed.

“I realize that we have to hit the ground running once the bond is passed and planning has to be done,” he said, “but I don’t want to ask for a dime more than we need.”

Whiston said all schools will have some form of updated security ranging from auto-lock doors to buzzer entrance systems and video monitors.

“Each school would have a different number of monitors,” Whiston said. “All schools would have them on the front doors back doors where deliveries are made.”

Whiston said the updates would only allow entry into the school through a buzzer system with a camera monitor.

Trustee James Schoolmaster said his concern is safety, especially on the inside of schools because in the past, aging lockers have fallen on students.

“Part of this is security problems with lockers falling on children,” Schoolmaster said. “I think it would be best if our schools were as safe as possible. These things are becoming crucial and necessary.”

Whiston said now administrators will enter the “planning phase” of the project.

“We will now go to each school and talk about what each school will get in the bond and get their opinion on things,” Whiston said. “(We plan to) work with architects to design it and bring it back to the board for final approval.”

Whiston said he hopes however the board votes, they keep in mind how the district would be affected.

“I’d like to lay off less (fewer) people and I know board would too,” he said, “but they would just have to factor that into their decision making.”

The next DPS board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 8 at the Administrative Service Center, 18700 Audette.

Voters may share their opinions about the bond and vote until April 8 in an unofficial, anonymous 2013 SMART bond survey at http://iblog.dearbornschools.org/2013bond/.

Mustonen said after the meeting that although the poll is non-scientific, it will provide the trustees with one more way of gathering input from the community about the two election dates.

(Sherri Kolade can be reached at skolade@bewickpublications.com.)

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