School board reviews bond language before possible big vote

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 20, 2013

GROSSE POINTES — After looking at bond proposal language during its Nov. 18 meeting, the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education is ready for a possible vote Nov. 25 to send an approximately $50 million technology bond proposal to the voters in February.

It’s the culmination of about nine months of talks and work in the district.

As presented Nov. 18, the plan would send the proposal for the infrastructure improvements, new technology equipment and security upgrades to the voters for a proposed February 25 election date.

It would allow for a multiseries bond. Voters would approve one proposal, but the district could issue up to the approximately $50 million in different phases. As presented, the district is looking at a two-series bond.

“We are proposing a two-series, broken down roughly between $35 million and $15 million,” Deputy Superintendent for Business and Operations Christian Fenton said.

While that is their current plan, the district can split it into more series with the proposed bond language, which just specifies a multi-series bond.

“By indicating multiple series, that maintains flexibility,” said Amanda Van Dusen, with law firm Miller Canfield.

Splitting it into multiple series allows the district some room on the timing of purchasing items. 

The proposed language also allows the district to make the bond payable up to 10 years from the issue of the last series. However, the district has discussed keeping the bond payment period shorter at only a total of 10 years from the issuance of the first series.

Trustee Tom Jakubiec asked for a specific end date in the language instead of the language that specifies not to exceed 10 years from the date of each series.

Other board members wanted to keep the language as presented.

“I think we should allow the flexibility,” Trustee Brian Summerfield said. “We shouldn’t tie the future board’s hands.”

Board members also said that with individual purchases coming to the board for consideration, there is flexibility for the board to consider not spending the total amount.

Board Secretary Lois Valente, who has made it clear that she is uneasy with the amount of the proposal, said the board could decide at a later date that they don’t want to issue the total $50 million.

“Financially, I think a lot of our homeowners are not where they were 10 years ago,” Valente said.

Board Treasurer Judy Gafa also noted that the board would have major discussions on what they move forward to purchase to meet the district’s needs and may choose not to pursue some things in the proposal.

“There’s flexibility here,” she said. “There’s nothing that says we have to spend it all … (or) spend it this way.”

Valente is concerned that this isn’t a “one and done” prospect, since technology is an ongoing need and districts are getting less support from the state in revenue sharing.

“I have this fiscal uneasiness about living beyond our means and shifting the costs to the taxpayers,” she said.

She has said, however, that it’s time to let the voters decide.

Like Valente, others on the board have maintained their positions from previous discussions about the bond.

Jakubiec and Trustee Cindy Pangborn still would like two bond proposals on the ballot, one for infrastructure and another that would include things like the technology purchases. It isn’t that they don’t want the entire bond approved, but they fear that the public will shy away from the proposal as a whole.

“I’m just asking my board colleagues to think hard on that,” Jakubiec said.

“I have a real fear of nothing passing,” Pangborn said. “We need the infrastructure.

“We are looking into some very hard times in the Pointes,” she said. “I would love it if everything passed … (but) I think this is too high of a risk.”

She said she also worries that there will be a public outcry about the cost of an election if the bond proposal fails.

Yet others say there’s also a risk of putting two proposals on the ballot and the infrastructure failing, but the technology component passing.

“If the wrong piece passes, we have a bunch of unusable stuff,” Gafa said.

Jakubiec said the district does not have to issue bonds for the second proposal if only the technology component passes.

Besides Pangborn and Jakubiec, the others on the board are ready to move forward with one proposal.

“I think that it’s too complicated to strip it into two,” board President Joan Dindoffer said. “I think we should be letting the voters decide.”

Residents with concerns about some of the components or the total cost spoke during the meeting, and others came up in full support of forging ahead with this proposal.

Superintendent Thomas Harwood said that parents have choices on where they send their children to school, including other districts and private schools that have today’s technology.

“We’ve been basically duct taping, so to speak, technology across our school system,” he said.

“I do believe it makes us a more viable educational system,” Harwood said.

The school board will meet again Nov. 25 with possible approval of sending it to the voters.