Letters to the editor: School bond issue
February 16, 2011 - Dear editor,
I have seen numerous letters with regards to the upcoming Lake Orion Community Schools bond issue and all of the reasons for it not to be passed. I have seen arguments with only partial information being used as reasons for the bond to be voted down. I am here to add a voice of reason and why our schools need this bond and this bond is definitely needed at this time.
I have seen arguments that the tax increase should wait, why now, why a vote in February. Contrary to what many people would like to think, a bond vote in February is not uncommon here in Michigan and there have been bond votes held all over the state in February. The other reason for the Feb. vote is to keep the costs down. With the passing of Proposal A in 1994, costs outside of the day-to-day operations, specifically major capital outlay, were intended to be funded through local community approval of a debt millage. The urgency in the timing of the bond election is entirely due to the statutory requirement of utilizing a 5-year history of taxable values. The current statue requires Treasury to set the millage rate based on the 5-year average of taxable values. The 2006 to 2010 average taxable value change is (2.3 percent), while the 2007 through 2011 taxable value change is expected to be approximately (6.0 percent).
I have also seen arguments with regards to European schools are educating their students better than ours and doing it in 500 year old schools. First off I would like to ask the person who made that statement: how do you think the schools got to be 500 years old? I can guarantee you it was not on their own. Being first generation American with a mother who came here from Europe, I can guarantee you that there is a tremendous amount of funding going into building refurbishment and upkeep. Buildings don't get to be 500 years old all by themselves, it takes a lot of work with a lot of MAJOR and MINOR upkeep. The same individual argued that according to PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) that our students are ranked on average 25th, and 30th in math. I agree that this is an alarming number, but I ask you how are the students suppose to achieve higher levels when the students in these countries have tools and opportunities not afforded our students?
This bond is for safe transportation for our children, because I can guarantee you I'm not comfortable with my child in a school bus over 10 years old. It's for technology improvement; I know that the computer my Junior in High School used when she was in first grade is still the computer being used at the same elementary school today. Technology is changing fast and if we can't have our students keep up they will not be able to compete globally and will continue to maintain the ranking of 25th globally. The bond is for building maintenance, like I stated earlier schools in Europe are 500 years old because they maintain them and keep them from falling down around their students. If your roof was collapsing at home you would fix it, why is it so wrong for the schools to want to do the same thing? And finally the bond is about safety. We see everyday on the news about the new and disturbing ways people want to bring harm to another, I am thankful the schools want to keep our children safe.
I for one plan on voting in favor of this bond proposal and I would ask that everyone reading this consider voting in favor also for the reasons I have mentioned above. I am all for fiscal responsibility and I have seen the school district remove over $15 million dollars from their budget. This bond is not about the administration or the teachers it is about the STUDENTS. It is for their safety, well-being, and improved education through tools to make them competitive globally.
Thank you for your excellent coverage of the school bond issue and the school board election. Both of these issues are extremely important to everyone, regardless of whether or not they own property or have children in the school district. When school board members decide to hold elections and/or promote bond issues, everyone pays for it. The cost of around $100,000 for the these two unnecessary elections is just a small portion of the total that property owners have paid for directly over the past several years, and that renters and consumers have paid for indirectly in the form of higher prices.
I was interested to read the letter to the editor written by one of the school board candidates, Daniel Myslakowski. He was very clear in stating his position in favor of including school board elections in November elections, which would save township taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future. He was also unabashedly against the unnecessary $25 million dollar bond proposal.
I would strongly hope that the Review would conduct a two question interview with the other 13 candidates. One question would be to find out if they also would vote to move the wasteful special May school board elections to the November ballot. The second question would be if they supported the bond proposal. Both of these questions would give the voters a good idea of how this person views the financial responsibility of the office in which he is asking to be entrusted. Thanks again, for helping the voters with these issues.
Lake Orion Resident
I should be writing against the bond. My only child graduated from LOHS in 2008. I seriously doubt I will have a grandchild going to LOCS in the next 8 years. So why should I care about a bond for a school that I have no children in? After all, I "got mine". My child received his education, so why should I care about all these children still in school? Sure, the school system affects property values, but hey, my house is literally worth half of what it was 5 years ago, so how much more could it go down?
We moved to Lake Orion in 1996 from a nearby city when we were in a position to buy a house. In fact, we moved here in the middle of my son's kindergarten year. We pulled him out of the first school he ever went to and moved him to Lake Orion during spring break - away from his teachers and friends. This might not be a big deal to some, but it was huge to my husband and me.
Why did we do it when we could have moved anywhere in this area? Because of everything we heard about Lake Orion schools. We wanted our only child to have the best public school education he could get, so we picked Lake Orion.
I wanted to have a child more than anything in the world. I believed having a child was my gift to the future. I have come to learn that all of the children are our gift to the future. They are our future. My child is yours and your children are mine.
That's why I support this bond.
It may seem that the only "benefit" I get from this bond is an increase in my property taxes. I believe the benefit to the children of our future is worth it. I believe we owe them the best education they can possibly have.
That's why I'm voting yes on Feb. 22.
After reading the excellent coverage your paper has provided and the numerous editorial letters, I have decided to vote no on the bond issue. The basis for my decision is a lack of trust in the current board and the past and current school administration. Their demonstrated lack of fiscal responsibility (spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on "off year elections"); their "shell game" tactics (moving expense items into the bond issue); and their lack of a business plan for the school district (their big rush for another special election because they didn't realize property values will be falling further); leads me to suspect the true need for the items in their proposal and the accuracy of the estimated amounts needed. Of the 28 School districts in Oakland County, why is Lake Orion the only one with "off year elections" at a cost of over $35,000 each? How many roof repairs would several of these elections have covered? In looking at the magnitude of some of the budget proposals, I have compared them to a fictional household of four people, and on that basis, the $14.1 mil for technology equates to approximately $2,000 per student, therefore to be comparable, a family of four would be spending $8,000 on technology in their home. Seems rather extravagant. If the School board is truly convinced that all these items are mandatory, then why don't they fund the bond issue from their operating budget? With the current School system operating budget of approximately $79.2 Million, all they would have to do is cut 1.7 percent in expenses and they could pay back the principal and interest without putting an additional burden on the taxpayer. Also, with the current state of the State of Michigan budget, the future could hold higher taxes that would be heaped on top of the school boards incremental request. Finally, no matter what your position is, please join with me in discussing this issue with your friends and neighbors, because the worst thing for the current School Board will be a strong voter turnout, as they have counted on low turnout in the past to get their proposals approved with only an 8 percent to 16 percent majority of the total voting population.
Last year I was invited to participate as a citizen in strategic planning for the Lake Orion schools. I consider myself fairly neutral in my support of Lake Orion schools. I had good experiences with my kids but I'm not a blind and bubbly supporter either.
I joined the strategic planning financial sub-committee. During introductions, I found that there was significant representation on all the committees from the union represented teachers and staff. Some of the questions I heard sounded like they were from a union representative in negotiations rather than a citizen who was asked for help in problem solving.
As we met with Jillynn Keppler, we asked to learn more about the finances of LOCS so we could help provide better advice to the LOCS staff.
We learned that 85 percent of LOCS' operating budget is for personnel. We learned that most of those staff were working under union contracts. We learned that due to collective bargaining agreements, we the citizens of Lake Orion who pay the taxes that pay those staff, were not allowed to see details or make recommendations on how those expenses under those contracts were managed. So 85 percent of the budget was virtually untouchable and was for all intents and purposes - none of our business.
So we looked at the remaining budget. We heard that outsourcing purchasing should be considered. We heard that consolidating select services with other school districts should be considered.
We heard that information technology was very old.
We heard the buses are very old.
We heard that both prior IT and bus purchases were made under prior bonds.
We heard those prior bonds are still not paid off.
We heard the operations budget does not include a plan for tech refresh or new busses.
We heard that short term loans like most of us would seek for smaller cost and shorter life span items like computers and buses were not allowed under state regulations.
Leasing was proposed for both computers and buses. I personally investigated leasing and found that many companies (including my own) provide leasing options just for this situation. The school administration provided vague answers on why this wouldn't be considered.
Continued suggestions and discussions kept redirecting focus to a new bond proposal as the only reasonable or viable option – in the opinion of the LOCS staff.
We met with a consultant on public bonds. A trial balloon of $20M was discussed for the purposes of our 'analysis'. A significant discussion occurred around a rolling average of tax assessments and how that would be falling off to much lower numbers in the coming year. We heard how that would drive up interest costs and make for an almost now or never situation for floating a bond proposal ASAP.
We also heard that forecasted attendance figures would continue to go down over the coming years and we could not expect any growth in state revenue sharing. I asked about whether school closures and consolidations should be considered in the plan. I was told that made sense but would not help as part of a public discussion just prior to requesting a bond proposal. I was also told the current population of LOCS supports a closure of an elementary school now and maybe another in coming 5-10 years.
I suggested that we consider those closings in the plan to see how they'd effect that 85 percent staffing impact on the operating budget, how they'd reduce the need for buses and information technology. Could we maybe squeeze enough out of the budget to afford to pay for leases out of the operating budget instead of through a bond? Those suggestions all fell on polite but deaf ears.
We asked about the $20M target in the bond analysis. Where did that number come from? What would be purchased with that money? We were told it was only a hypothetical amount for analysis purposes. The cost of new computers and buses would be much lower and final proposals for inclusion in the bond would be handled later through another committee discussion. It appeared to me that the $20M figure came from the fact that it would result in a nice even one mil increase in taxes. So it could be the LOCS staff were just working backwards from what they thought would be politically palatable. I don't know for sure but that's the appearance to me.
All in all, my experience with the strategic planning finance committee left me with the following impression of the LOCS staff. They created the strategic planning committees to help enroll citizen support for a bond proposal they were planning prior to us ever getting involved. All discussions were led towards the conclusion of a need for a bond with no other options ever being seen and supported as viable. I was also left with the impression that LOCS staff's priorities are as follows: 1st the children of LO schools, 2nd the staff of LO schools, the parents of LO children, the taxpayers of LO. We the tax payers are just here to be manipulated to help achieve the goals and ambitions of LOCS administrators and staff. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the staff of LOCS be acting at the discretion of and in the best interest of the taxpayers of LO? My experience suggests not.
Based on all this – and the fact that a special election was scheduled just for this vote – that the LOCS staff are attempting to manipulate the local populace to provide what the LOCS staff have decided will make their respective jobs easiest.
When things continue to get harder and harder, there will be more turnover in LOCS staff and school board positions – but we the people of Lake Orion will be left with a large bill and a large mess to clean up. We can only blame ourselves when that day comes.
Vote NO on the school bond proposal.
Every day we read in the newspaper or hear on the news about Michigan cities and communities that have not invested in their schools. What we see are crumbling buildings, low test scores and graduation rates, declining populations, greatly reduced property values and reduced police and fire protection. The pictures we see of these communities are not pretty. I do not want to pick on those communities, but I also do not want to follow in their footsteps.
As a community we have an opportunity on Feb. 22 to invest in what our community looks like in 10 or 15 years and, even more importantly, we have an opportunity to enhance the educational opportunities for our children and grand children. We are at a crossroad, both as a community and a nation, when it comes to maintaining our infrastructure. We have all witnessed what happens when the road to infrastructure neglect is chosen.
Let's not make the same short-sided mistakes that others have made by neglecting our schools. A "Yes" vote on Feb. 22 speaks volumes to the world that we want to live in a community that values our educational facilities and ultimately the education of our future leaders. Remember, others have already shown us what happens if we chose the wrong road and that picture is not the one I want for Lake Orion.
Feb. 22 will be deciding two very important issues: the amount of technology in our schools, and the very structure of the schools. I'll take the technology aspect of the upcoming vote first.
I saw the presentation that was given at the Senior Center. It was a very well done presentation. The basics were given about the bond, but also a presentation by an assistant principal from Waldon Middle. His part of the presentation gave a view into what the technology will look like after implementation. I have to admit that I loved it. I think it's the future of learning and will enhance how our kids are taught. There was a problem with the presentation, however. What I have not heard discussed either at the presentation at the Senior Center or the presentation at the Village Council, was any mention of educating the teachers about the technology.
I was inking about what the teachers want, do they even want the technology? Did the schools survey the teachers to find out if they are wanting more technology? I did some research into the acceptance of technology at the classroom level and found a very interesting article in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education entitled Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. The article discusses the major hurdles that teachers must overcome before they fully implement new technology in their classroom. The short of the article was that teachers must be knowledgeable about the technology, believe in the value of the technology, and be confident in the technology. The article goes on to describe the in depth training that teachers must have in order to overcome all three of these hurdles and it is quite extensive.
Let's say the teachers do want the technology, I don't see any money that is allocated for teacher education. Without that, the uptake will probably be around 50 percent which leaves an awful lot of $14.1 million unused. Just for the record, I did place a call to Jillyn Keppler at the schools to ask about the training and I haven't heard back from her office yet.
The second aspect of this bond issue is the principle of giving the schools more money for things that should have been budgeted for. During the bond presentations, the bus schedule was mentioned, they replace the busses every 10 years. I wonder where the money is to replace those busses. The schools knew that there was a clock ticking yet they didn't save the money. The same goes for the roofs that are in need of maintenance. When I posed this question to Ms. Keppler her response was something about the influx of students that they had during the late 90s and early 2000s, but I counter that along with those new students comes new money.
The Village of Lake Orion could really use some new computers, some new Department of Public Works trucks, some new police cars, building maintenance, etc. but the Village isn't asking for more money. Instead of raising taxes, the Village is making due with what we have, revamping our health insurance plans, not by reducing benefits but by finding new plans that are equal to what they had prior.
It's my opinion that the schools have gotten used to asking for money under the guise of "It's for the kids" and they have come to expect that we will just open our wallets. I believe that it is time to tell the schools to do better with what they have. Everyone has been impacted by the recession and has had to make do, many are making do with less. For the schools to come to us and ask for more when they can't afford what they have is indefensible in my opinion.
We are presently living through the worst financial crisis since the great depression. Thousands of people in Michigan have lost their jobs, their investments, and their homes to foreclosure. This winter, Lake Orion High School put out a distress bulletin asking for coats for students who had none. The number of those students was sizeable.
Nonetheless, the Lake Orion School Board is asking the citizens of Orion Township to finance a bond that will cost the average home owner $160 per year.
The Lake Orion School Board insists that this bond is necessary for advanced technology. However, it would seem that in the present financial environment, advanced technology is a 'want,' not a 'need' - especially since so many families in Lake Orion are struggling.
This is not the first time that the Lake Orion School Board has been insensitive to the public's concerns. They have consistently refused to hear the taxpayer's complaints about having expensive, non-traditional elections such as the one we are facing now. Since last May, when there was one candidate on the ballot for one School Board position, over $70,000 of taxpayer dollars have been spent on special elections. Add the coming School Board election this May and the bill rises to well over $100,000. This kind of arrogance in the face of our present financial situation is appalling to me.
So, instead of chanting the usual "It's for the good of the kids to pass the bond issue" slogan, I propose that we start saying over and over again, "It's for the good of Lake Orion families to say NO to the bond issue." Students can survive without advanced technology but they don't do well without food and clothing. It is time to be realistic about the amount of money people have to live on today.
Please remember to vote in the May elections to insure that every present Lake Orion School Board member is relieved of their position. We need people to realize that the School Board is supposed to represent the taxpayers – not the school administration.
Mary Ann Ryan