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Group spreads word on school bond



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April 18, 2012 - For Clarkston Kids First members Aimee Baker, Mary Herzenstiel, Kelli Horst and Anna Muzzy, the $20 million bond proposal is all about information.

"We're also meeting a lot of people face to face in the community to answer questions about technology what it means, what the money will be used for," Horst said.

"We've researched every question anyone could ask," Baker said.

They're also clearing up misconceptions about the bond, set for a May 8 vote, Herzenstiel said.

"It won't be used for football turf or concession stand," she said.

It also won't replace teachers, she said.

"If teachers felt they would lose their job, they wouldn't support it," she said.

The group is working to get Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock's message out on the bond, using postcards, buttons, Facebook, Gmail, and meetings, Herzenstiel said.

"From day one, Dr. Rock spoke about his plan, the direction for Clarkston Schools," Herzenstiel said. "They've been planning for this for two years, a long time."

The biggest question they've heard is the district's $200 million total debt, Horst said.

"It seems very scary, and sure, it's scary," she said. "But the reality is the State of Michigan forces communities to make decisions on how much to invest in the kids. The state system is flawed."

The state cut $5 million in per-pupil funding in 2010 and passes along retirement costs and other expenses, she said.

"The community must decide what it values and if there's the will to fund it," Horst said. "The debt is neither scary nor unusual in the state of Michigan. Does the bond make sense? To me, it does."

"Since his first day, Dr. Rock has been focused on the kids," Baker said. "He has such strong commitment. He's a brilliant man, very respected outside of Clarkston. We're very fortunate to have him."

He's done his homework on the bond, she said.

"There are reams of paper work supporting this. The only thing standing in the way is getting the money to do it," Baker said.

She's seen how technology pilot programs make students excited to learn, she said.

"Give a kid a piece of equipment and watch it become part of the learning process," she said. "I can't fathom a reason why anyone would oppose this."

A volunteer at Andersonville Elementary, Herzenstiel sees the need for updates.

"We can provide better," she said. "As anyone in the classroom could see, there's a need in the schools. I'm not saying Clarkston is doing a bad job, but it could do better."

"I'm impressed with the schools but there's room for improvement," said Muzzy, who recently moved to Clarkston with her family from Virginia. "That's why I'm here, to help Clarkston schools continue to improve."

The bond would be about $100 a year for families, she said.

"I spend more at the grocery store in one week. It's not a lot of money," she said.

It would also be worth it to families in free- and reduced-lunch programs because it would provide computer access to their children, Herzenstien said.

"This is a great equalizer it opens the world to them," she said. "From my perspective, $20 million for me is a bargain."

Facilities upgrades, about half the $20 million bond, are needed whether it is approved or not, Horst said.

"We need to replace the things on the list," she said. "The 2003 bond was right for the time. But it's 10 years later. It would be irresponsible not to put this in place."

"With the bond, the money that would have been spent out of the general fund to replace a boiler can be put in the classroom to lower class size," Herzenstiel said.

The proposal is structured to update technology every five years, she said.

"Technology will become obsolete; it plans for that," she said.

"Technology builds on the concepts of creativity, cooperation those are never obsolete," Horst said. "It's a tool that enables other things."

Another issue is the durability of computer tablets and other technology.

"Textbooks are $300 apiece, and students are taught to take care of those," Baker said. "Teach kids respect for all items, that's the parents' responsibility."

Parents will receive education too, Horst said.

"Dr. Rock's vision will happen," she said. "The bond is well thought out, and it's equal for all."

Equalization of state school funding is the probem, said Horst, who as a member of the PTA regularly talks to legislators about it.

Clarkston is the fourth lowest funded district in Oakland County, she pointed out.

"I don't know if anyone is brave enough to tackle it at state level," she said. "I don't see this governor tackling it."

State government has played fast and loose with school funding, she said.

"Without an equitable funding level, communities like us eat the costs. It makes me angry," she said.

"This has nothing to do with Clarkston, nothing," Baker said. "Clarkston is very responsible."

"The state dropped the ball. We as a community must decide if our schools have to suffer because of that that's what the bond asks," Herzenstiel said. "Don't let cuts affect our kids."

"Our kids are worth it," Baker said.

"Create an education system for our kids and make them ready for a future not imagined yet," Horst said.

Herzenstiel offered to show residents around the school if they want.

"Come and see what's going on," she said. "There are great things going on, but definitely great needs too."

"Teachers are bubbling with excitement," Baker said. "It's the best it's ever been internally."

"We're really excited, and we're proud of our district and Dr. Rock," Baker said. "I'm looking forward to seeing where we can go."

"Visionary leaders don't come that often," Horst said. "It can change the way our kids learn. We're pretty fortunate."

"We don't necessarily realize what we've got," Herzenstiel said. "People in other districts, outside our walls, have heard of him. They're enthusiastic about him and his level of talent. We need to make sure we don't miss out and waste the opportunity to use his expertise and knowledge."

Anyone can help, Horst said.

"We welcome all hands on deck," she said.

Check Clarkston Kids First on Facebook or email Clarkstonkidsfirst@gmail.com.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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