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Advocates move forward after vote

A pontoon boat moored in Deer Lake presents a happy face “vote no” message. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
May 16, 2012 - In the wake of the overwhelming defeat of Clarkston Schools' $20 million bond proposal, leaders for and against called for a combined effort to improve schools.

"We need to remember what makes the Clarkston area and our schools great and come together in support of both," said Mary Herzenstiel, member of Clarkston Kids First. "I am not referring to support for the bond, just community support for continuing our legacy of being a great place to live and learn."

"More people should go to school board meetings so they can see what's going on," said Betty Reilly, member of Citizens for Responsible Intelligent Spending In Schools, CRISIS. "We need more involvement. People have a lot going on, but education of the next generation is just huge."

Residents have the responsibility to help the school board and administration identify issues critical to student success and finding ways to work those issues with the resources available, said Lawrence Matta, CRISIS member.

"Among other things, this will require reordering spending priorities from the general fund while at the same time identifying leaks in that fund, areas where unnecessary expenditures are occurring, and plugging those leaks," Matta said.

The school district will continue to move forward with its mission of "cultivating thinkers, learners, and positive contributors to a global society," said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.

"We put tremendous thought and effort into this bond," Rock said. "Our task from the beginning was to enhance learning opportunities for our 8,000 students. Our task remains, regardless of the outcome of the bond."

Technology updates will happen, he said.

"We will have to find ways to update our technology and capital assets," he said. "The questions are how soon, which ones, and how to finance them."

The campaign leading up to the vote was contentious, with several signs reported stolen by both sides.

Also, some "vote yes" signs were spray painted "no," parent volunteers and children supporting the bond at polling places said they were shouted at and called names, and they received an email with an obscenity directed at supporters, said Kelli Horst.

"They disrespected our children and our community," Horst said.

"That disappoints me, it makes me angry," Herzenstiel said. "The population did not want what was offered – that's part of democracy. My kids are disappointed, but voters had their say. But it's not right to have to explain the yelling and defacing signs."

CRISIS members weren't responsible for any of that, but bond supporters should have realized how much the community opposed it, said Michael Powell, CRISIS supporter.

"It's too bad the administration and the 'yes' group didn't go out into the community to see if others could afford their extravagance before considering another tax hike," Powell said. "They could have saved taxpayers thousands of dollars for an investment that yielded a negative return."

The special election, May 8, cost the school district $35,000.

"It should have come as no surprise to anyone that a huge majority of the public would vote this proposal down," Powell said. "Hopefully they have learned that if they don't talk to, or listen to the public, they will continue to be embarrassed at the polls."

No one should have taken or destroyed signs, Reilly said.

"Everybody needs to show respect," Reilly said. "Our side isn't totally right and the other side isn't totally wrong. That's not the way this country does things."

CRISIS plans to keep active in the educational community and will work to promote and support the election of board members who promote a completely transparent school district and administration, Powell said.

"A good deal of gratitude is in order for the volunteers, donors and voters who supported the effort in the firm belief that there is a better alternative," Matta said.

Horst said Clarkston Kids First will continue in spirit.

"We are grateful to the volunteers, supporters and voters who shared our positive message of putting Clarkston's kids first," she said. "It may not happen as quickly as it would have had the outcome of the election been different, but it will happen. We are inspired by the administration's vision, and will continue to work together as parents, teachers and citizens to ensure it comes to fruition."

"I wish to express my sincere gratitude to those who worked tirelessly to put this issue before the voters,"Rock said. "These people demonstrated tremendous energy, vision, and belief in the district's vision."

Residents voted 5,755-2,945 against the proposed $20 million school bond. Voter turnout was 26.8 percent. In the May 2009 school board election, turnout was 8.89 percent. In May 2007, school election turnout was 6.76 percent.

Clarkston Community Schools asked voters to approve a one-mill property tax increase for a non-qualified bond, half for wireless Internet, tablet computers for students and teachers, and other technology, and the rest for parking lot, utilities, building improvements, and other capital projects.

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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