The Dearborn Public Schools district took on a number of construction and improvement projects at its 32 facilities while students were having fun in the sun, but this summer marked a significant change in terms of physical improvements for the 18,500-student district.
But as Qualified School Construction Bonds dwindle and financial struggles for the district continue, funding spent on improvements at school facilities was cut drastically for 2012.
Typically, the district spends about $3 to $4 million on building improvements from the general fund. This summer, that amount was cut to $2 million–$1.3 million of which came from QSCB funding, and $700,000 came from designated building and site funds in the general fund. Overall, the district confirmed, this meant a $3.3 million cut in repair spending from the district's general fund.
“We prioritize repair on what is most urgently needed,” said Jeff Burek, the operations director for Dearborn Schools. “And did a lot less (this year) than we usually do over the summer. In the long term, we’re going to have to do these repairs and find a way to pay for them–it’s not going to just stop.”
Students will notice changes
This summer, the projects the district completed include:
- and elementary schools received a fresh coat of paint, along with selected classrooms at Middle School, the gymnasium at , and the exterior of Elementary School;
- The parking lots at , , Edsel Ford, Miller, and Elementary were re-paved;
- A new rooftop HVAC unit was installed at ;
- New carpet was installed at , , , , Long, , Woodworth and selected classrooms and a locker room at
- High school tracks received new stripes Dearborn, Edsel Ford and Fordson;
- New interior and exterior doors were installed at the Edsel Ford handicap entrance and the Fordson interior hallway, and some doors were added at River Oaks;
- Concrete repairs were made at Oakman, and asphalt repairs or replacement were made at William Ford and Henry Ford;
- The parking lots at Dearborn, Miller and , and Howe were re-striped.
Options for future funding
The QSCB funds used to pay for the majority of the repairs are low-interest bonds that the district can use for capital improvement projects. The funds are meant to be used only on facilities and cannot be used for classroom instruction, supplies, technology or payroll.
But now that those funds are spent, it remains to be seen how future repairs would be made.
The district does have options. There is a potential for the board to place the question of a sinking fund––before Dearborn voters. Or, the district can ask voters to allow the schools to issue bonds, which would be paid back over several years.
Kathy Hayes, the executive director of Michigan Association of School Boards, said the question of handling repairs, especially for large districts, is one that must be considered carefully.
"In the last election we saw about 50 percent of millage requests approved by voters, so residents definitely support schools,” she said. “In our experience, districts have been more successful with bonds than a sinking fund because it’s difficult to ask voters for more money when times are tough.”
Old buildings, new choices
Burek said all of Dearborn’s buildings are in good working condition, but that issues are bound to emerge when you consider the age of the district’s facilities.
Dearborn Schools owns 34 facilities, 31 of which are schools. Of those, DuVall and Salina are the oldest, at 92 and 91 years old.
Out of 31 buildings, 16 are over the age of 60 years–or 51 percent of school facilities. Another seven buildings are between 50 and 60 years old. Eight buildings were built in the 1990s and 2000s.
Burek said the district will do what it takes to make sure the buildings are safe for children and conducive to learning.
“We work hard to make sure that the repairs that are needed are made,” he said.