Dearborn Schools May Ask For $76M Bond From Voters in August
Details about the bond were discussed at Monday night's Board of Education meeting.
Dearborn Public Schools district officials on Monday presented the Dearborn Board of Education with details of a $76 million bond that would go to support security, maintenance, transportation, school expansion and technology upgrades.
The bond may come before Dearborn voters as soon as August.
Much of the expenses are needed for upgrades—in transportation, technology and building infrastructure.
According to district spokesman David Mustonen, the district used to commit $4-5 million of its annual budget to building maintenance and buses. In recent years, that cost has been closer to $1 million per year—most of it geared toward fixing immediate problems, such as a broken down bus, or a leaking roof.
“Because of the reduction in funding from the state and other revenue reductions—and, at the same time, with our expenses increasing—we’ve not been able to commit that same dollar amount toward that very important issue of maintenance of our buildings,” he explained.
Mustonen said much of the district’s budget woes are due to an 8.1 percent reduction in per pupil funding from the state over the past five years, coupled with millions of dollars in reduced federal categorical funding, such as for at-risk students.
“Although we’ve heard a lot of claims about our state government supporting education, we feel that the state of Michigan is really not investing in our schools like they should be,” Mustonen said.
District could ask voters for a SMART bond
As funding has dwindled, the districts’ buildings, buses and technology has aged, creating a myriad of pressing issues that district leaders believe would be best addressed by the bond.
Mustonen called it “A smart plan for maintaining excellence in Dearborn Public Schools.
SMART, literally, is an acronym for what the $76 million bond would go toward.
Security: Auto-lock doors, buzzer entry and video monitors in the office at all schools.
“We’ve been asked by parents to look at our schools and address school safety,” Mustonen shared, citing concerns following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December. “There are steps we can take to make our schools more safe than they already are right now.”
Maintenance: Roofs, HVAC, plumbing, painting, tuck-pointing and electrical work.
“They’re not full-blown additions,” Mustonen said, “but they’re major renovations.”
Technology and Transportation: The district would purchase 7,000 computers (3,500 every five years), plus upgrade equipment and licenses, and implement district-wide wireless internet access. Much of the upgrades would help the district to prepare for the state’s upcoming switch to online standardized testing in 2014. The state is not offering funding to districts to help implement the new testing.
“Without a bond, I don’t see where (technology upgrades) would be coming from, Trustee Mary Lane said.
The district would also purchase 30 new buses.
The cost breakdown is estimated at $600,000 for security upgrades, $800,000 for grounds and building maintenance, $3.6 million for buses, $12 million for technology upgrades, $21 million for roofing, parking lots and other major renovations, and $38 million toward other projects.
Mustonen stated that the bond, though large, will not change the current millage rate of 5.81, due to a current bond that is close to being paid off.
“This new mill would just replace that,” he explained.
“We need you to approve this by the next board meeting”
Though the board wasn’t vocally against the idea of asking voters for a bond, several trustees expressed concern that the district expects quick movement on approval of the ballot question.
“We need you to approve this by the next board meeting,” Superintendent Brian Whiston told the board Monday. “We’ve been talking about this for the past few years. This isn’t new for us.”
Board President Pamela Adams said she had hoped to hold a public study session on the topic before the board made a final vote.
“Wherever we can get feedback is important,” she said after the meeting. “That’s my main concern.”
However, Trustee Aimee Schoelles pointed out that the district did perform a poll on community members concerning their likelihood to support a bond for various needs.
“We didn’t just decide this,” Schoelles told the audience. “(The poll) at least gives us an idea of where we stand and what we need to work on and what’s important to the citizens.”
Adams was adamant that the board attempt to host a study session with the public before approval. No date was set as of Monday evening.
“$76 million is a lot of money,” she added. “I just want to be able to justify it before we go out to the community.”
The next K-12 Dearborn Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 25, at the Administrative Service Center, located at 18700 Audette Street.