January 18, 2012 - The proposed $20 million bond vote this May is about children and learning, school officials say.
"It's $100 for children, to get the technology they need," said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock. "The community has the option to agree it's up to them."
Henry Woloson of Independence Township sees it differently.
"This is about a small group of individuals on the School Board attempting to circumvent the recently passed Michigan law which consolidated elections in order to save scarce taxpayer funds," Woloson said.
Rock said the election was set for May 8 so its programs can be implemented this fall, and to avoid partisan politics.
"Voters deserve an opportunity to speak on this issue alone it's not Democrat or Republican," he said.
The bond proposal supports the Learner Profile and Strategic Goal Areas approved by the School Board last year, Rock said.
"I just hope people think this is important for kids, whether they have children or not," Rock said. "This is what we believe is best for kids that's what this is about."
Woloson doesn't buy it.
"There is absolutely no valid reason as to why taxpayers should be spending $35,000 for a special election in May just to vote on the school tax increase when there is an election already scheduled to take place in August," he said.
"This has nothing to do with when the fiscal year ends and has everything to do with the administration and certain school board members trying to stack the deck in favor of passing this school tax increase while schools are in session in April and May to better access their supporters."
Richard Bisio of Clarkston agreed.
"This doesn't appear to be an emergency that can't wait until November, when there will be a heavy voter turnout," Bisio said. "The fact that the board majority who approved this doesn't blink at the $35,000 cost is indicative of a lack of attention to eliminating unnecessary expenditures."
Voter turnout will be higher during the regular elections, Woloson said.
"More senior citizens and voters without children attending K-12 classes are likely to vote in August, thereby increasing the likelihood that the vote would better reflect the demographics of the community, something the supporters of the special election school tax increase apparently do not want," he said.
Mike Powell of Independence Township sees the bond request as irresponsible.
"Considering how long the board has known about the three 2012 election dates, adding a special election for a tax increase in May is a shameful waste of $35,000," Powell said. "Decisions like this are exactly why they defaulted at the state level. Asking for higher interest rate, non-qualified bonds for non essential items continues the trend of irresponsibility."
The first $10 million would be used to install wireless access in all buildings over the summer. Technology training for teachers would also begin at Sashabaw Middle School this fall.
"That's the place that makes the most sense," Rock said. "Then it would spread across the district over the next six years."
The first year's experience would be used to adjust training for the rest of the district, he said.
The bond would also provide iPads, tablets, or other mobile learning devices to all teachers this fall.
"It's very important that all kids have access to tools to use beyond school," Rock said. "It's important that students be able to use technology. We want to go from a system where students fill in bubbles on a multiple choice test to a system where they figure out how to demonstrate what they know create something to show that they know how apply what they know. It's not enough just to know it."
Bisio isn't sure the bond is necessary for achieve that.
"There are schools that provide an excellent education without excessive technology investments and at less than the per pupil cost of the Clarkston schools," Bisio said. "Many municipalities have made hard decisions about priorities in this time of declining property values and corresponding declining revenues. It's easy to go to the taxpayers and ask for more money harder to live within your means."
The bond is a wise investment in in improving economy, Rock said.
"Any business person would invest $35,000 on a $20 million return," Rock said. "Any investment made on kids returns multiple times in what they contribute."
The bond would increase property tax for schools from 7 mills to 8 mills. One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property valuation, or one-half market value, so it would cost a family in a $200,000 home $100 per year more through the year 2029.
If property values decline, the district will reduce the amount of spending, Rock said.
"Or, if it improves, we might benefit from that," he said.
"What we're asking for is $100 for a resident with a $200,000 home for updates we need to ensure students have what is needed. It's up to the community to decide if it's important enough to spend $100 annually to make it happen for every child."
The issue is more than $100 more per year for "the kids," Woloson said.
"Especially when the term of almost nine years to pay off these bonds is longer than the useful life of the technology and repairs that are being financed," he said.
Rock said district finances are sound.
"We are absolutely living within our means," he said. "The budget is balanced the school board set parameters to balance the budget."
The district reduced staffing and spending, shares administrators with another district, and increased energy efficiency. Employees changed insurance as well as accepted pay freezes and cuts, he said.
"The community should be very proud of what employees and what they have done," said Anita Banach, human resources executive director.
Expenses have piled up as state funding declined, Rock said.
"We've kept cuts as far from the classroom as possible, and put off updates to parking lots and other things like that the longer you put them off, the more it takes to fix," he said. "We have to maintain what we have. There's not a lot of money in the general fund for parking lot updates."
The bond would be an non-qualified loan the state wouldn't have any say in how the district uses the funds. However, the interest rate may be higher. According to the State of Michigan, qualified bonds provide school districts access to the state's credit rating, which is usually lower.
"Taxpayers should know that these non qualified bonds will be at a higher interest rate, and additional mills can be levied without a vote of the people," Powell said. "It would be foolish to give this board an open checkbook."
As an non-qualified loan, however, the bond is much more flexible, Rock said.
About half the bond is for capital improvements including roof and paving repairs, furniture updates, energy efficiencies, and band instruments and uniforms.
Rock will host informational meetings, and invites churches, civic organizations, businesses, and other groups to contact him to set one up. Call 248-623-5408.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.