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August 7, 2013

Tech committee plans for new bond proposal

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTES — After the technology bond proposal failed to garner enough votes to forge ahead to the November ballot at the July 29 Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education meeting, the technology steering committee didn’t waste time getting together and hashing out its next steps Aug. 1.

That next step involves the district administration paring down the technology bond proposal to something that will require less than 2 mills from the taxpayers. That would result in something at about $29 million instead of the $48 million, two-phase bond that failed by a 3-3 vote at the July 29 school board meeting.

“I just appreciate the fact that you guys are back together so soon,” district resident, parent and bond issue supporter Pete Spencer said, adding that technology is important in that “it just opens up the walls of the classroom.”

During the technology committee meeting last week, bond issue supporter and district resident George McMullen Jr. commented on the surprising turn of events and the outcome of the July 29 meeting.

“They’re like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get,” he said of the meetings in this process so far.

The technology committee scheduled another meeting for Aug. 7, after press time. They need to have a proposal at the board table during a regular board meeting toward the end of the month.

“We have to have the board approve it no later than the 26th,” Harwood said.

During the Aug. 1 meeting, the three committee members, who are also members of the school board, discussed what to do next.

Superintendent Thomas Harwood once again emphasized a need to upgrade the district’s infrastructure and bring technology into the classroom.

The previous proposal had infrastructure, one-to-one technology (one device per student), and other purchases like a security system upgrade.

Committee member and board Secretary Lois Valente was one of the “no” votes at the July 29 board meeting. She said she knows the district needs the upgrades but was just uncomfortable with the size of the proposal.

“My concern is really about how dependent we are becoming on millages and bonds,” Valente said. “We’re shifting the responsibility of educating students from the state and onto the local taxpayer.

“We need to be as fiscally conservative and as tight as we can be,” she said. “We’re not living within our means.”

She said she’s looked at other successful districts and compared millage rates.

“More money doesn’t mean you’re getting better educational outcomes,” Valente said.

Valente raised the idea that she would be able to support something smaller, at below 2 mills, to fulfill the district’s technology needs. 

She also said she was willing to hold off until a later date, instead of November’s ballot, if they can’t get consensus on the proposal.

“I say we keep going until we hammer it out,” Valente said.

Others mentioned that would cost the district money to host an election outside of November’s general election.

Committee chair and board Trustee Tom Jakubiec, who also voted against the proposal at the July 29 board meeting, said there were concerns that the $48 million proposal would not pass.

He said he also knows there are things that need to be done now, but he wanted to make sure they looked at different options.

“I am truly on board for getting something done and something on the ballot in November,” Jakubiec said.

However, some at the committee meeting said it’s time to get the issue into the hands of the voters so they can decide.

“Bottom line is, what do we need as a district, what is it going to cost and then you have to give it to the voters,” resident Kathy Abke said.

Committee member and board Treasurer Judy Gafa voted in favor of the two-phase proposal.

“I am extremely, extremely frustrated,” she said. “I keep hearing that we need to have a dialogue. We had dialogue.”

Gafa said she does think the board has been fiscally conservative and made difficult decisions.

She wants the district to have what it needs in place so they’re not putting this proposal in front of the voters with the thought that they’ll be going back to them for more.

“I don’t want to go back to the voters,” Gafa said. “I want to do it right the first time.”

She was willing to go forward with the plan to have the administration go back and look at a less than 2-mill proposal, but she had some stipulations if she is going to support the proposal.

“I’m not shortchanging our students,” she said, adding that she wants to ensure the district is honest about the parameters and the plan. Also, she said she doesn’t “want to come back to the taxpayers.”

“Seven to 10 years from now, I don’t want another board to sit here and have to go through this,” Gafa said.

She agreed that it’s time to give voters a voice.

“We need to trust our voters,” Gafa said.

Several people spoke at the Aug. 1 meeting, including teachers and parents. Several supported moving forward with a bond for technology upgrades.

No one in the audience said they were against trying to bring more efficient technology in the district, even if they didn’t support the size of the previous technology proposal.

One resident said it was simply too much to ask for at this time.

“I’m retired,” Andrew Dervan said. “I’m going to be careful how I spend things. We want to support the schools.”

He mentioned that the district needs to be careful not to push it too high. 

“We can’t afford all of this,” he said of the burden on taxpayers.

Jakubiec was pleased with the final outcome of the committee meeting.

“I think we’re at the place where I hoped we would get,” he said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.