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Hazel Park

June 14, 2012

Hazel Park Schools makes case for ballot proposals

District needs to update technology, fix facilities and more

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
The track at Hazel Park High is so worn out that meets can no longer be held there, while the grass turf gets torn up when used, unlike the more durable synthetic fields of neighboring schools. Two proposals on the ballot in August seek funding to repair and maintain these and other items throughout the school, such as technology, roofs and parking lots.

HAZEL PARK — A town hall meeting was held at Hazel Park Junior High June 7 regarding the upcoming bond proposals for Hazel Park Public Schools.

The message was clear: The district, which encompasses Hazel Park and part of Ferndale, has athletic facilities, parking lots and buildings in need of repair, and is losing its competitive edge due to ancient technology that slows down students and staff.

But the question remains whether voters will be willing to sacrifice for the schools. On Aug. 7, voters will make that decision.

The proposals
The district is asking voters to approve 3.1 mills between the school improvement bond and building and site sinking fund. The district gets $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value, times the millage rate.

This means that for a Hazel Park resident with an average taxable value of $18,214, the two proposals would cost $56.46 a year, or 15 cents a day. For a Ferndale resident in the district with an average taxable value of $27,302, it would cost $84.64 a year, or 23 cents a day.

The first ballot item asks voters to approve an $8 million bond to buy new technology, in particular computers, and to improve the schools and athletic facilities. The tax levy would range from 0.79 mill to 2.10 mills, repaid over 20 years.

The other ballot item is for a building and site sinking fund, in the form of a 1-mill tax that would raise roughly $304,340 each year for five years. This money could only be spent on fixing and maintaining existing facilities; it cannot be used for operating costs or other expenses, such as teacher, administrator or staff salaries.

“The two proposals are both very necessary,” said Fred Nix, a former teacher, coach and administrator in the district. “The $8 million for the bond is to fix things, but once we fix them, if we don’t have a sinking fund to maintain them, we’re going to start taking from classrooms. So it’s critical we have both and understand one depends on the other.”

What they fix
The presentation outlined how some facilities are literally falling apart in places.

The athletic complex at Hazel Park High is one area in need of repairs. The track, for example, is nearly 40 years old; its last overhaul was in 1985 when it was resurfaced and converted to metric. It was repainted in 2003, and since 2004, it’s been patched again and again, to the point where it’s so rutted and uneven it’s no longer viable — track meets have to be held elsewhere because of tripping hazards.

Hazel Park High is the only school without an artificial turf in the Oakland Athletic Association. While neighboring schools enjoy low-maintenance synthetic fields, Hazel Park High’s football, soccer and marching programs are stuck with grass turf that’s worn, torn and muddy. The softball and baseball fields are also in rough shape: The lighting is poor, the sound system is antiquated, and the scoreboard has a tendency to break down, requiring scores to be kept by hand.

The barbed wire on the fence line is another eyesore the district wants to remedy.

Beyond sports, there are roof repairs to be made, to avoid leaks and potential hazards to students. The parking lots are potholed and in need of reconstruction and resurfacing. The high school auditorium’s curtain is falling down, the carpet curling up. Exterior doors also need replacements.

And then there’s the school’s technological capability, far behind the curve.

The proposals would allow for the implementation of district-wide smart classrooms, with presentation computers, interactive whiteboards, audio amplification systems, digital projectors, document cameras, interactive wireless tablets for flexible on-the-fly learning, and student response systems to gauge comprehension in real time.

There would also be significant improvements to district-wide technology infrastructure, from structured cabling upgrades and new network electronics to a digital video distribution system and wireless network for staff, students and guests, making information access faster and more reliable.

Improvements to digital video surveillance would also be in order — an unfortunate necessity, but one officials say will keep the kids safe.

Fiscal responsibility
The district, which has a $45 million budget and a $2.4 million deficit, has been looking for savings from top to bottom.

“We’ve continued to reduce the number of personnel in all of the employee groups on a yearly basis,” Superintendent James Meisinger previously said. “We’ve had a reduction in the administrative ranks, as well. We’ve divided up the responsibilities.”

Examples in the current fiscal year (2011-12) include the elimination of an elementary teacher, two technicians from the technology department and the assistant manager of maintenance and custodial (effective June 30); the elimination of eight kindergarten facilitators by the end of the school year; and Victor Mayor’s resignation as superintendent last December, following which Meisinger, then assistant superintendent, was promoted and the position of assistant superintendent eliminated.

In fiscal year 2012-13, the retiring junior high music teacher and a retiring high school teacher will not be replaced. As of last June, the district had also found savings of nearly $1,187,000 through more than two-dozen reductions and eliminations.

With the two proposals on the ballot for August, the district is looking for new revenue sources to keep the district in good shape as it tries to climb out of deficit.

The district also recently saved taxpayers more than $3 million in interest by refinancing a $54 million bond voters approved in 2002 to demolish and rebuild several buildings in the district, and renovate others.

Now the goal is to overhaul everything else. Outdated technology and aging facilities are taking their toll on classrooms and extracurricular activities.

“I’m involved as a citizen of Hazel Park,” said James Knapp, principal of Webb Elementary and chair of the Citizens Committee that was established to address the bond issue. “Our kids went through our schools. One was involved in marching band; the girls were involved in sports. I’ve traveled to surrounding areas; I’ve seen it all. And the people on the Citizens Committee just want to be on par with the surrounding areas. Our kids deserve good facilities. I love living in Hazel Park, and I want the best for our kids.”

To estimate what you would pay, use the tax calculator at http://hazelparkbond.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.