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Berkley School District asks residents for $58.9 million bond

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 23, 2015

 The Berkley High School boiler, as well as boilers all around the district, will be one of many infrastructure components to see upgrades if the proposed $58.9 million Berkley School District bond passes May 5.

The Berkley High School boiler, as well as boilers all around the district, will be one of many infrastructure components to see upgrades if the proposed $58.9 million Berkley School District bond passes May 5.

Photos submitted by Jessica Stilger

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BERKLEY — Several years of studying the Berkley School District’s infrastructure led the administration to form a list of improvements to make, and on May 5, residents will vote on whether or not to approve a $58.9 million bond for improvements.

In 2013, the district hired Integrated Design Solutions to study the district’s infrastructure, and IDS submitted a 512-page report outlining several issues and recommendations that totaled $120 million. The district then brought in SHW/Santec to comb through the study and highlight the most critical needs.

With recommendations in hand, the district held community stakeholder meetings with staff, residents, students and administrators to determine what needed to be addressed with the bond. Boilers, technology and air exchange handlers were some of the most pressing areas, and led to the bond language that the school board approved during a Feb. 9 meeting.

“I think the most important reason to approve this is to invest in our facilities,” Superintendent Dennis McDavid said. “We had to close one of our elementaries for one day this year because of boiler failure, and that is a symptom of the oldness of the entire infrastructure. We have a great community. Our parents are fantastic and we do great things in terms of academics, but we need to take some steps to get our facilities in better shape.”

In 2010, voters denied a $168 million bond proposal that would have made comprehensive improvements at every facility. The proposal was defeated with almost two-thirds of voters voting against it.

Berkley currently has the third-lowest homestead tax levy of all school districts in Oakland County at just more than 10.7 mills. The proposed millage increase, if approved, would put the district in the lower half of school tax levies in the county.

While the initial estimate of millages to be levied is 3 mills in 2015, the district said the estimated average annual millage to retire the bond during 25 years is 4.15 mills, but that number could change depending on home values.

With the district asking for about half of what was recommended by IDS, McDavid said having the community input was vital.

“We created this citizens’ facilities committee and had senior citizens and high school seniors and parents and folks without students in the district look at the report,” he said. “This proposal is the citizens’ committee’s recommendation, and is really more the citizens driving what we think are the most important things to support in the district.”

However, some residents feel that the district is being misleading on the real cost of the proposed bond and that the district may have to go back for another bond in the near future to address the other needs.

Bob Williams, who has lived in Berkley for 67 years, said voters may be voting on a $58.9 million bond, but over the 25-year life of the bond, residents would actually be paying more as the district has to pay interest during the bond’s lifetime.

“We have to pay the bondholders back with interest, so that is a bigger number than they like to talk about,” he said. “Over the life span of the bond, a person’s house will go up and they may pay double or triple what they would pay now, depending on the economy.

“Again, this is an issue of making things transparent to the public, as they haven’t made it clear if they are taking care of half of these (improvements), and then they could be back in a few years for another increase to cover the rest, while this one won’t go away for 25 years.”

However, one of the biggest issues for Williams, who worked with other residents to create www.berkleybond.org to provide information on the bond, is the number of school of choice students that  the district has. School of choice students currently make up about 20 percent of the district’s student body.

The main issue, Williams said, is that parents of school of choice students don’t pay for the bonds in the school district.

“Taxpayers are being asked to support those (school of choice) students to build or improve existing buildings to be able to house them,” he said. “The district gets an annual amount for taking care of those students, but that takes care of nothing in terms of facilities and maintenance, so we have to pay for them.”

McDavid said that while school of choice students may not bring in money for infrastructure repairs, having them in the district allows the schools to offer additional academic classes, such as the 21 AP classes offered, with the $7 million that school of choice students generate for the district’s general fund every year.

“You are not going to fix part of your buildings, and we are not going to say school of choice students have to stay in one part of the building and we are not going to fix that part,” he said. “Things are only going to get worse as boilers are not getting younger and electrical systems are not getting better. We need to invest in those things.”

For more information on the bond, visit www.berkleyschools.org/bond.

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