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Grosse Pointes

School board sends bond proposal to the voters

November 27, 2013

It wasn’t a unanimous vote, but the decision-making process on a $50 million technology bond proposal is out of the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education’s hands.

It’s now up to the voters.

The school board voted 5-1 Nov. 25 to put the proposal on a ballot Feb. 25.

“This is a technology proposal that very much includes needed capital improvements and infrastructure in order to use this technology,” board President Joan Dindoffer said. “It’s not realistic that expenditures of this nature and major upgrades for buildings that are 80 years old are going to be coming out of the current income that we get out of the student-aid budget.

“I think it’s a package that we need to take to the voters and see what they have to say,” she said.

The approximately $50 million bond proposal will fund a major infrastructure upgrade, security improvements and new technology, including a one-device-to-one-student component. The biggest component is the infrastructure upgrade, because the district already has trouble running the technology it currently has due to the older buildings and outdated infrastructure.

If passed, a homeowner with a taxable value of $150,000, real value of $300,000, would pay about $340 a year.

The district plans to issue the tech bond in a multiple series of bonds so they can prioritize purchases over a period of time.

Other board members agreed with Dindoffer on the need to approve the proposal.

“Learning today is not about memorization; it’s about access to information, and our students are woefully unprepared to access that information,” board Vice President Dan Roeske said. “I think this is a solid proposal. It’s a tough one, but I think once the information is out there for the community, I believe that the community is going to vote yes for our schools and for our property values.”

Although board Secretary Lois Valente has voiced concerns about the amount of the bond, she voted in support of the proposal, as well.

“I am going to support the bond because I am one of seven votes, and as a fiduciary, I feel like our board has done the best work that it can do without giving it up to the voters to make a decision,” she said, adding that she feels that “to deny the kids access to any option for technology for another year, to me, is when I have failed on my fiduciary obligation.”

Board Trustee Brian Summerfield agreed that the district cannot wait any longer because it takes time to implement new technology.

Board Treasurer Judy Gafa said they need to offer all students what they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

“I can’t imagine going into work and not being able to use the equipment to get the job done,” she said. “Our infrastructure is inadequate and our current technology devices are barely working. We’ve said many times the computers in our schools are older than the kids that attend it.

“I have a daughter going to college next year,” Gafa said. “I’m voting to raise my own taxes, but I really feel that it’s worth the investment.”

While everyone agrees that the district needs a major technology overhaul, not everyone was on board with sending a hefty price tag to the voters.

Board Trustee Cindy Pangborn, along with Trustee Tom Jakubiec, has asked that the district split the proposal into two ballot items in hopes that voters who are hesitant about the total package can consider the infrastructure component. Jakubiec was absent at the Nov. 25 meeting, but Pangborn voted “no” on the motion to send the proposal to the ballot.

Pangborn said she felt differently about putting the one-shot proposal on the ballot and letting the voters decide.

“As an elected official … I feel our job is to bring the very best that we can offer to the community,” she said, adding that she had previously asked that the district tone it down from wants to needs.

“I don’t think we’ve had enough discussion,” Pangborn said. “We are asking the community for all or nothing.

“I am desperate in my emotions of getting this technology passed for this infrastructure,” she said, but she worries that it won’t pass and the district will have nothing.  “I just don’t think that we are ready to do this. I think it’s too big of a gamble.”

Many community members have stepped up over the past months to support a technology bond proposal.

“Putting some money every year into keeping the system going, kicking the can down the road, has been a disservice to the teachers, administration, students and residents,” resident George McMullen Jr. said during the Nov. 25 meeting in support of the tech bond proposal.

There are others, however, that do not support the package presented or the price tag.

Resident Peter Dow said he doesn’t have children in the district, but he has supported every school bond or millage over the years.

“I think this is a little bit much,” he said, adding that he read the proposal and there are capital improvements that do not have anything to do with technology in the proposal. “Before you go into this and drop $50 million, I think we ought to do a little bit more research, reach out to the community, and talk to people.”

While the voters now have the floor when it comes to the final verdict on the technology bond, the district’s work isn’t done. There have been some residents who have expressed that they want more specifics on the plans for the money.

Now the district’s work will include making sure voters have the information and details they need to make the big decision in February.

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