School tech bond on hold for expert review

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 29, 2013

GROSSE POINTES — With last-minute proposals from board members tossed on the table and a board that was struggling to reach a consensus, the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education is taking a different route before putting the technology bond issue in front of the voters.

That, however, will mean that the voters won’t get a shot at making a decision during the November election. Instead, they could see a tech bond proposal as early as February, if the board decides to pursue a proposal.

The board voted 5-2 Aug. 19 for the administration to issue a request for proposals for an architectural plan, which would include evaluating total cost of ownership, finding efficiencies in the original proposal, and more.

“I felt that the community deserved to have a clear, precise plan presented to it,” board Treasurer Judy Gafa said. “I just felt like a professional, third-party, unbiased review — to say, ‘This is the right plan. This is what it’s going to cost to get there. This is what you need to get the kids up to speed and the staff able to teach with this type of technology’ — is what we really needed to get past all of these proposals that keep coming up.

“I didn’t like that we had to delay this,” she said. “I felt that we were backed into a corner on some of this.”

Gafa is in favor of the administration’s plan. She said that other trustees had brought a number of proposals forward that seemed to be just numbers without validation. The last-minute proposals hadn’t gone through the process, which would have included being discussed in a committee meeting before being brought up at a board meeting, she said.

She said she wants residents to have clear answers to any of their questions, so she felt this was the best step forward.

One thing all board members agree on is that the schools are in need of a technology overhaul from the infrastructure to the technology they place in the hands of students. The thought is that the district is behind, when it comes to technology, and doesn’t have the capacity to catch up without a major change.

The administration and the technology committee have been hammering out the plan for months. The administration’s proposal came to about $48 million, but some board members had concerns about the amount, and they were running out of time to come to a consensus for a November vote.

Waiting until February will cost the district because they’ll have to pay for the election, whereas a November ballot proposal would be held during a regular election.

The two “no” votes on seeking the third-party review at this time were Trustee Brian Summerfield and Vice President Daniel Roeske. They wanted to get it on the ballot in November and let the voters decide on the administration’s proposal.

“I think this was an unnecessary delay,” Summerfield said, adding that the architectural plan that the district is seeking through the third-party review “was part of the original proposal.”

Doing it prior to the election, however, is another cost that may ultimately come from the district’s general fund if the voters choose not to approve a technology bond.

Roeske said that the board had all seemed in agreement during a meeting in July, and he said his opinion on the issue has not changed. He’s still in favor of the administration’s proposal, which was based on a needs assessment and all of the work that the administration put into the proposal.

“The proposal that they put forward was the one that we should take to the voters,” Roeske said. “We need to let the voters decide.”

He said he voted no because “at the end of the day, it’s delaying the community having their voice.”

While he wasn’t on board with holding off, Roeske said he is optimistic that they will come to a consensus on a proposal.