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Farmington, Farmington Hills

July 24, 2013

District says bond will improve test scores

Council member says bond will make taxes too high

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — On Aug. 6 Farmington-area voters will go to the polls to decide a $222 million bond proposal from Farmington Public Schools.

According to district officials, the 1.44-mill annual tax increase will cost average homeowners approximately $7-$9 per month — or, if going by the estimated monthly average, $84-$108 per year for 25 years — and will cover the cost of upgrades to infrastructure, security, technology and learning environments.

District officials say upgrades to technology and learning environments will have a direct impact on education and students’ abilities to learn and achieve.

Colleen Stamm, a sixth-grade teacher at Power Upper Elementary School who is piloting an iPad program in the district, has seen first hand the difference technology in the classroom can make.

“The whole upgrade has to do with the concept of one-on-one learning,” Stamm said. “When they have the right tools, the students get to what they need help with and which style of learning works best for them and customize their learning experience.

“For example, there are different ways to solve math problems. We put the different ways to solve them up on the board, and using their iPad, they can take a picture of the way that they understand it best so that they have an example of that on them. Then when we have time where they have choices about what they want to work on, there are various math apps they can use to help them where they are struggling.”

Stamm noticed that in the two classrooms where she was piloting the iPad program, the level of student involvement and engagement increased dramatically, and their performances increased, as well.

She said having access to the right technological tools allowed her to teach vocabulary in a way that sparked the interest of almost every student.

“Before, we would write the word and definition and draw a picture of it, and maybe six students were really into it,” Stamm said.

With knowledge of some apps, Stamm created an interactive vocabulary wall in her classroom. Using their iPads, each student had to make a video in which they shared their assigned word and showed examples of it; then, when they were finished, they had to write out their word in a colorful, artistic way on a plain white sheet of paper, which Stramm hung on a wall in the classroom.

“Using Aurasma, we linked the posters to the videos they made, kind of like scanning a QT. Then, when the student has free time, they can walk up to the posters and just scan a word poster with their iPad and the video that student made will play,” Stamm said.

Not everyone is sure all that is necessary to help the district succeed, however. Farmington Councilman Greg Cowley is one of those people.

“I went to Catholic school and was taught from a blackboard,” Cowley said. “Of course I want strong schools and students, but I think (the price) is just too high. I understand the need for maintenance on the buildings, but I haven’t even got a clear response to how much of the bond is going to maintenance.”

Executive Director of Instructional Support Services Jon Manier said times have changed and the blackboard alone won’t do anymore.

“Students today learn in different ways. I’m 44 years old, and when I went to school and the way I expressed my understanding was by writing a paper or taking a test,” Manier said. “I think students today still need to do that, but they also need to learn and express their understanding by making videos, creating presentations, participating in stimulations.”

He mentioned a 2011 study by Hanover Research that found that improving a school’s environment, and classroom designs that are flexible and incorporate technology, can improve test scores by as much as 11 percent.

“Every child has strengths and challenges and different kinds of interests,” Manier said. “I think with better technology, we will be able to better target where a student is and what it will take to move them forward, and I think as a result to technological upgrades and improvements to our learning environments, you are going to higher levels of engagement in the classroom and better results on standardized tests.”

Cowley is not convinced, though.

“They came out and presented it before council and we were given a chance to ask our questions, and I asked what it will do to improve test scores and graduation rates,” Cowley said. “I was given a quote about studies that talk about how environment improves test scores. They never actually showed us the studies. I don’t buy it.”

The lack of answers isn’t why Cowley is speaking out against the bond issue, though. Even if the studies proved that environment would increase the test scores of every student in the district, there are two main issues he said he just can’t ignore — two pieces of unused, district-owned property and the long-term effect of the high cost.

“They are sitting on two pieces of property that, if sold, would make them money and bring in tax dollars to the city,” Cowley said. “Investors have tried to contact them about Flanders — it’s on 10 acres, and they want to build 20 single-family homes there — and they haven’t done anything. And Maxfield Training Center — it is near downtown, and the city has been trying to stimulate or entice them to do something with it, but they haven’t done anything.”

As a business owner, Cowley says the 1.44 mill increase will make taxes in the city so high that it might keep businesses, investors and residents from wanting to move to the area.

“Farmington already has the fourth highest tax rate in Oakland County,” Cowley said. “If we start to approach 50 mills, and we will if this passes, and the city has to request a millage anytime in the near future, we will be at or above 50 mills.

“Then we are at risk of losing potential investors and new residents. Taxes are high enough as they are. … I want strong schools, but this is too high.”

For more information on the Farmington Public Schools bond proposal, visit www.farmington.k12. mi.us.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.