Source: Sherman Publications

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Bond vote set for May
School district asking for $20 million for technology, building

by Wendi Reardon

January 11, 2012

Voters will decide in May if the school district can borrow $20 million, adding onto a current bonded debt of $138 million.

Clarkston School Board voted 4-3, Jan. 9, to approve the special election.

"I haven't met anyone who has given me positive feedback about this bond," said Trustee Sue Boatman, who voted against it, along with trustees Rosalie Lieblang and Joan Patterson.

Boatman added the district should have the vote in August or November, when regular elections are already scheduled.

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

Betty Reilly, Clarkston resident, reminded the board school elections were moved to November to save costs.

"I urge the board to vote no," said Dawn Schaller, parent and Independence Township resident. "The district would rather hold an election in May and pay $35,000 then in November for zero dollars. The election in May, you are unlikely to get the general public to vote."

The $20 million bond would pay for technology and building repairs and projects throughout the district.

According to administration, the vote needs to be in May to avoid impact by changes to state funding laws, allow for summer tax collection, and savings on interest costs.

The non-qualified bond would raise the current millage rate from 7 mills to 8 mills to bring in a $20 million bond. The bond would be split in three parts, $10 million in 2012, $5 million in 2016, and $5 million in 2020. Taxpayers will pay for the bond until 2029.

Paying off the current bonded debt with interest will cost taxpayers $198 million by 2029, according to Clarkston's 2011 financial audit.

More than half will go to technology, $10.5 million for upgrades to infrastructue and data electronics, installation of district-wide wireless access, replacement of outdated computers, increase network storage, and interactive technologies such as smart boards, classroom sound systems, interactive tablets like iPads and other items.

"While I agree there needs to be a technology update, there has to be a better way to fund it," said Bridget Gibbs, a parent. "You preach about technology but you are replacing some of the systems we have in place."

For example, laptops Bailey Lake Elementary PTA purchased for students to use.

"Instead of spending money we don't have, why don't we look at current budget where over 80 percent is wages and benefits," she added. "This is an economic model this community cannot continue to sustain. We need to get back to basics. Three years ago, Kindergarten teachers had seven hours in aide times. Now they have three. I do not support the bond until the board understands where their priorities need to be."

Reilly said technology is great but it would also be a distraction.

"We need to think about what it would do," she added.

A Kindle electronic book with downloaded textbooks would help reduce weight students have to carry, she said.

Kelly Horst, PTA president, said her son was part of a pilot program using technology at Springfield Plains Elementary and he enjoyed school more.

"He now loves learning," she said, explaining he excitedly comes home to get on the internet to do more online reading and is excited to show his family and friends a Google document he created.

"I want the taxpayers to really weigh in," she said. "If we wait another year, it may be another child lost in the process."

Springfield Township Treasurer Jamie Dubres wrote in a letter to the board she would love to support the upgrade of technology in the schools and allow site development but not as an additional burden to tax payers.

"Our community has tough decisions they have to make with declining revenue," she continued. "Asking taxpayers to put more money into homes with little or no equity is not responsible in these economic times. Families have to adjust their own budget to survive or in some cases keep their homes from being foreclosed."

The next biggest bond project is $3.5 million for site development for enhancement to Andersonville Elementary's parking lot, improvements to parking lots and sidewalks throughout the district, resurfacing tracks and tennis courts at Clarkston Junior High School and Clarkston High School, and expansion of parking lot at Early Childhood Center.

Building construction would be $3.4 million, including security improvements, handicap-accessible door at the high school, and upgrade of energy management systems.

Furnishings and equipment is $700,000, and safety and securits is $500,000.

The next step is administration meeting with administrators, teachers, staff and community members and groups to share how learning is related to the capital and technololgy projects they plan to accomplish with the bond funds.

"We just want to give the kids the best opportunity and this is what we can do," said Dr. Rod Rock, superintendent.