May 02, 2012 - Voters in the Clarkston School district will be asked to approve a $20 million, non-qualified bond issue next Tuesday. Unfortunately, we cannot support this proposal.
We see the bond proposal, developed through committee, as too large and unfocused.
The school district is on the verge of a technological breakthrough, improving the way students learn in a way previous generations couldn't have even imagined.
That's due to the vision and leadership of Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock. He knew where he wanted to take this district from the day he took the reins two years ago.
Half the proposal, about $10 million, is earmarked for parking lot, plumbing, and roof work, and other capital improvement projects around the district.
Many of the items would be nice to have but aren't essential to the schools' mission, like parking lot improvements at elementary schools, where students are much too young to drive.
We have a problem with this.
The district deliberately underfunds maintenance and updates, instead diverting those funds to the classroom, on teacher salaries and other instructional costs.
Then the district goes to voters with bond issues: $57.7 million in 1997; $83.7 million in 2003; and $20 million in 2012. All this adds up, leaving the district with about $200 million in long-term debt. How many times will they come back in the next 15 years?
It is a cycle that needs to be broken.
A million per year over the past 10 years could have covered it. With revenues of about $76 million a year, that would have meant about a one-percent difference.
The district's long-term debt should not be dismissed. Because of it, the state won't back the bond proposal, causing the district to seek a non-qualified bond.
Concerns about increasing taxes are also valid, especially as Independence Township considers a one-mill tax increase for a district library and Springfield Township wants up to a mill for police services.
Also, the school board decided to hold the election in May, costing $35,000 – this is the cost of about 70 tablets. Piggy-backing on elections last February, August, or November would have reduced that cost to zero. The school board is a problem that needs to be solved this coming November.
Tablet computers are where schools are headed, and students and teachers are justifiably excited about them. They represent a leap forward, setting aside heavy, expensive, hard-to-update textbooks, notebooks, and reams of worksheets in favor of a single device.
We see the proposal as the opening bid on how to pay for it. There's time for a counter offer.
The district's technology plan calls for a gradual rollout over the next three years, anyway, starting with the middle school, then junior high, high school, then elementary schools.
Defeating the issue, Tuesday, will make the district tighten up its plan, giving it focus. That's what we need. Dr. Rock has the vision to make it happen. He just needs a reason.