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School Bond questions and answers

April 18, 2012 - In Dr. Rod Rock's column "Reasons for bond's capital projects," March 28, the Clarkston Schools superintendent presented his plan for about half of the $20 million bond proposal.

His reasons prompted some questions, which are presented here with Dr. Rock's responses:

Why didn't the previous administration and school board budget sufficient funds to maintain the district's roofs, furniture, parking lots, and sidewalks?

The state has reduced funding to CCS and all school districts in the state. As an example, our 2012-2013 projected funding from the state is at the 2005 level. Hence, the district has reduced spending, for a number of years, in order to balance the budget. In doing so, the district has worked very hard to maintain programs for kids and to lower class sizes. This means that cuts came in other areas, such as delaying capital improvements and purchase of textbooks, athletics, staff concessions, and technology, reducing number of administrators, and professional development. It is because of the state's reduction in funding to schools that the district was not able to update technology and capital needs through its general fund.

What percentage of sports gate receipts and participation fees go to maintenance?

The annual cost to run our 28 sports is around $750,000. Through budget cuts, the district has reduced funding for athletics to around $350,000. The difference is made up in pay-to-play fees, fund raising, and gate receipts. This leaves very little money for updating athletic facilities, meaning that major projects, like replacement of tracks and tennis courts, are cost prohibitive within the athletic budget. As state revenue declines, it becomes more difficult for the district to update athletic facilities.

Building security systems were state-of-the-art not too long ago – the school board mentioned an upgrade back in 2009. Why are they now inadequate?

The district has 12 buildings, 8,000 students, and 1,000 employees. Our facilities are used seven days per week, year round by students, staff, parents, and community. Our building and grounds staff, along with students and staff, do an amazing job of maintaining our facilities. In fact, this is one of the first things that visitors to our schools notice—well kept, clean facilities. Wear and tear are natural effects of constant use. In our 12 buildings, we have literally hundreds of entrances and exits. Safety and security are fundamental, primary needs and concerns. Keeping security systems, entrances, and exits up to date is essential for the safety and security of our students, staff, parents, and community. As state revenue declines, it's more difficult for the school district to update security systems.

Why does Independence Elementary have improper insulation? Who was the contractor? Could they be made to fix it?

Independence Elementary, which is one of the most beautiful and well kept elementary schools in Michigan, along with all of our elementary schools, was built to specifications and design. The need for additional insulation emerged over time and was not the result of faulty design or construction. Just as in our homes, these needs emerge over time. As state revenues decline, it becomes more difficult for the school district to update its facilities.

Why would a state-qualified bond require a millage increase of 4-5 mills, while a non-state qualified bond only 1 mill?

A state-qualified bond requires a 4-5 mill increase because Michigan's treasury requires the school to use the prior 5-year, taxable-value average for the life of the proposed bonds, which results in property valuations decreasing every year at a negative rate, which is unrealistic, since taxable values have already moved in a positive direction. A non-state qualified bond, which also has very strict pre- and post-election oversight, allows the district to base the required millage increase on taxable-value forecasts over the life of the bond. The current trend and conservative forecast indicates a 16 percent improvement by 2029, which is the year of payoff for the 2012 bond. This means that a non-state qualified bond, which is used by at least 33 districts in Michigan, raises the same $20 million in capital to meet the district's technology and capital needs over 17 years through a one-mill increase as a state-qualified bond raises through a 4-5 mill increase. 

What are Administration Fees in the bond, and who do they go to?

The fees cover legal counsel, bond counsel, bond underwriting, any design or architectural fees, any construction management fees, the estimated $35,000 in election costs, and all other fees associated with the bond. This is a standard element of bonds.

What are the results of the technology pilot programs regarding student learning? How durable has the technology been?

The technology pilots have produced extremely positive results. As you saw from the teachers and students at the technology showcase, there is a palpable excitement for the use of instructional technology by parents, teachers, and students. Our teachers have noticed improved student engagement and learning. The teachers involved in the pilots have indicated a very strong desire to expand these learning opportunities to all students. The preliminary results, along with references to several studies of technology use in schools, are found in our 1:Global technology plan/report.

Schools' April-May 2012 newsletters include "Bond 2012 An Election Update" with "roof maintenance," "plumbing repairs," and "parking lot and concrete repairs," for which bond proceeds can't be used. What happened there?

Besides the oversight of our bond counsel, school board and administration plan this bond and determine what is legally bondable. Any decisions to the contrary would be considered fraudulent and would result in severe punishments for those who made the fraudulent decisions. The district has always used bond monies exactly as indicated in elections. In 2012, the district will use bond dollars exactly as determined by community members, school officials, staff, parents, and the school board through our strategic planning processes, as indicated on the needs list. Any variance would require by law the consent of the majority of electors.

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