BPS to propose capital improvements bond renewal

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 11, 2020

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BIRMINGHAM — As one debt expires, Birmingham Public Schools is asking voters to consider a new bond to fund repairs around the district.

The bond proposal will appear on the March 10 presidential primary ballot, and the funds would be directed to classroom needs and capital improvement projects throughout the district, from torn-up parking lots to boilers at some locations; plus updates to flooring, seating and roofing; improvements at sports venues; and more.

BPS Superintendent Mark Dziatczak said he feels that Birmingham families will approve the measure, with the aim of keeping the schools in step with the area’s exceptional reputation.

“This community has an incredibly high standard for high levels of student learning and student performance, and with that, I think, everybody expects that we’re going to have facilities that provide that for each and every child,” said Dziatczak.

If approved, the proposal would authorize the issuance of $195 million of bonds over three series through 2026. The annual debt millage levy would remain at or below the annual debt millage of 3.8 mills levied in 2019.

“We’re kind of at the confluence of three things happening at the same time: The first is, at the direction of our Board of Education, we started to do some significant capital planning work in conjunction with Plante Moran Cresa, and that work started back in March. What we wanted to do is really take a professional and significant look at every one of our structures in the entire district, put an age, and make an assessment of all of our key infrastructure and facility needs,” Dziatczak explained, noting that the assessment was completed last fall.

The second factor to prompt the bond ask was the fact that despite the good looks on the outside of many BPS buildings, there haven’t been updates to many things since the last 20-year capital improvements bond in 2003 for a little over $130 million. The $66 million bond approved in 2015 was focused on technology, security and just some infrastructure.

Now that nearly two-decades-old bond has run its course.

“We took a look at our finances and realized, ‘Hey, we have some debt that’s falling off. We could capitalize on this report,’” Dziatczak said. “We let the board wrestle with that, and we decided to ask our voters for this bond.”

If the bond fails, the upgrades proposed — the details of which can be found on the district’s website — won’t happen, and any emergency repairs that need to be made, like a boiler replacement, would need to come out of the district’s general fund. As a capital improvements bond, the money cannot be used for employees’ salaries and benefits or other day-to-day operation costs, like the November 2019 21-mill levy on nonhomestead properties, which covers those expenses.

In developing the plans for how the funds, if approved, would be spent, the district connected to parents, students and educators on what they felt was needed to maximize learner outcomes.

The district’s athletic boosters had a thing or two to add, as well.

Jeff Taylor is an athletic booster for Groves High School, and serves on the Parent Planning Committee for BPS at large. He has traveled to other schools and even outside the state with his three sons to play for BPS teams, and he and other parents have noticed disparities between the facilities they visit and their home field.

“We noticed Birmingham’s facilities are in the lower 25%, if not lower,” he said. “You’ll go around and you’ll see rusty baseball and softball fences, huge unglued areas of turf that need to be replaced, rotted wood on the exterior of ticket stands. The weight rooms at both high schools are ripped up and just in very poor condition. You just didn’t see that in other school districts in the area.”

Taylor added that, through the assessment and planning process for the bond proposal, he was especially encouraged by the cooperation among parents at different schools, who he said worked together to make sure every school got a fair piece of the funding.

That, and the fact that BPS officials have been so responsive to the families’ concerns, he said.

“This board, led by (Board President) Kim Whitman, has been exceptional,” he said. “They’re trying to create a sunny day, and I’ve been really impressed with the new superintendent and the board driving this.”

To see a full list of the planned improvements by facility if the bond is passed, as well as the complete ballot language, visit birmingham.k12.mi.us.

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