A view of Madison Elementary School. Madison District Public Schools is currently seeking a bond that will pay for new roofing at Madison High, Wilkinson Middle School, and the Early Childhood Center, as well as other improvements including air conditioning at the high school.

A view of Madison Elementary School. Madison District Public Schools is currently seeking a bond that will pay for new roofing at Madison High, Wilkinson Middle School, and the Early Childhood Center, as well as other improvements including air conditioning at the high school.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Voters to decide bond to fix buildings in Madison Schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 6, 2021


MADISON HEIGHTS — Madison District Public Schools is seeking taxpayer approval for a new bond in the general election Nov. 2 — and officials say it won’t increase the current tax rate.

If approved, the bond would raise $11.4 million in order to replace roofs at Madison High School, Wilkinson Middle School, and the Madison Early Childhood Center, as well as to make needed interior repairs to damaged ceiling tiles, painted surfaces and masonry.

The bond would also allow the district to remodel and re-equip the high school, with a new HVAC system that includes highly requested air conditioning units and improved air quality, as well as boiler and pipe repairs, enhanced security, upgraded lighting and more.

The result, officials say, will be a safer and more comfortable learning environment for students and staff, and more efficient systems that reduce the district’s operating costs.

The estimated millage that would be levied for the proposed bond next year is 1.8 mills — $1.80 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation. The bond would be repaid over a period of 25 years, and represents a zero increase over the current debt millage rate.

Angel Abdulahad, the district superintendent, explained in an email how taxpayers have been paying a debt rate of 7.76 mills for the past 24 years, but by approving this bond, the debt rate will still be little more than half of that rate.

“This will give taxpayers a significant break in their debt taxes, and provide the help we need to protect your investment as stakeholders of our facilities,” Abdulahad said.

The groundwork for the proposal dates back to 2019, when a facility condition assessment was completed on behalf of the district by Performance Services and Byce & Associates, an architecture and engineering firm, and then updated this year. Also this year, SetSeg School Insurance Specialists conducted a facility and hazard assessment.

Both studies identified critical facility needs at Madison High, as well as roofing needs at Wilkinson Middle School and the Madison Early Childhood Center. Officials say that the district’s limited budget has only allowed for short-term repairs, but now, aging infrastructure has reached the point where more extensive repairs are needed. For example, the majority of HVAC equipment at Madison High dates back to 1963 — well beyond its recommended operational lifespan.

“These critical repairs have been identified by several agencies — one being our insurance carrier, who has limited our coverage because of these conditions,” Abdulahad said. “The taxpayers are the owners of these facilities. This bond will bring the facilities up to a safe modern state. If you had a leak in your roof, you would certainly fix it. If your furnace needed replacing, you’d do that, too. We are asking you to make an investment in our children, and the buildings you own. We thank you in advance.”

District finances
As  previously reported, an audit conducted by Plante Moran in 2019 showed the district had a surplus of nearly $3.3 million in 2012, but was overspending up through the 2019 fiscal year. When a new board and superintendent took power in early 2019, they found the district teetering on the brink of collapse, with a deficit of $1.5 million projected for the following year.

Abdulahad, who became superintendent that year, implemented a series of corrective measures to stave off a deficit. This included cutting $1.5 million from the 2019-20 school year budget. Since then, the district has been attempting to bolster its fund balance.

This has led to the district being removed from a state watch list that requires districts to have 5% or more of their expenditures in savings. Currently, the district has exceeded that goal, with a fund balance around 10% and growing.

Earlier this year, the district celebrated some good news, selling its 2021 refunding bonds for roughly $9.6 million, resulting in interest payment savings of $747,000. The savings represent nearly 8% of the bonds that remain.

The sale of the former Edison Elementary School to the charter school Keys Grace Academy has provided the district another $1.3 million. The district will also continue to be the fiscal agent for Keys Grace for the next 10 years, for which the district stands to gain another $1.3 million, for a total $2.6 million.

“We will recommend to the board that this money be solely designated for infrastructure needs. We want taxpayers to know our efforts in securing funds for necessary repairs. We have worked diligently to stabilize the district’s finances, and we were able to achieve a positive fund balance that has removed us from the state watch list,” Abdulahad said.

“In spite of all of our efforts, we are unable to achieve both a positive fund balance, and the necessary funds to repair the infrastructure needs that have been neglected for over a decade. We need your help in protecting your investment, and providing quality of life for both our students, staff and employees. We don’t ask this lightly.”

Cindy Holder, the school board president, said the bond presents a unique opportunity, allowing the district to make necessary repairs while effectively saving taxpayers more than 3 mills from the previous year’s tax levy.

She said the necessity of the bond is due in large part to the situation her board inherited upon taking power in 2019.

“It’s certainly been a struggle dealing with the current financial situation,” Holder said via email. “The previous administration left us broke. I was part of a group that opposed the last two bonds since they were expensive, and I did not trust the people making the request. I had been personally tracking questionable spending, and it’s absolutely criminal that with all the former repair expenditures that were approved by past board members that the buildings need these necessary repairs.

“I feel this new bond is absolutely necessary,” she continued, “and I trust this board and this administration to be very responsible with the money from this bond.”