Clawson schools approve ‘right sizing’ option, to go for bond

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published March 24, 2021


CLAWSON — On March 15, the Clawson Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to approve a bond project as recommended by the bond steering committee and place it on the Aug. 3, 2021, ballot.

If approved by Clawson voters, the 30-year bond would generate approximately $54.1 million in total. The bond, if approved, would not cost taxpayers any more than they are paying now because it does not increase the city’s millage rate.

While more than 66% of Clawson voters approved a $9.9 million building and technology bond in February 2014, the funds are now nearly depleted, and the district’s current debt is dropping off.

The bond steering committee — composed of more than 40 members representing parents, students, teachers, staff, community members, business owners, city leaders and other stakeholders — met 14 times to fine-tune the direction of the bond.

On March 1, the committee recommended one of six different “right-sizing” concepts, or reconfiguring, closing and selling buildings. Without immediate action, CPS administrators projected a significant loss of students and, subsequently, per-pupil funding from the state, resulting in an “early trigger warning,” defined as the district’s fund balance falling below the 5% of expenses threshold in the 2020-21 school year.

Last March, the Troy School District denied Clawson Public Schools’ formal request to consider annexation, which is when one district becomes part of another. Over the summer, the bond steering committee began researching how to address facility and equipment issues, including underutilization of buildings and end-of-life infrastructure.

The recommended concept — known as “2B” — moves the early childhood programs and administrative offices to Kenwood Elementary, which could happen immediately and would provide additional classrooms for growth; moves all K-12 to the central campus; and sells Schalm Elementary and the Baker Building for residential development.

The offices, early childhood, elementary, middle and high schools would all have their own secure entrances. The middle school would house K-1 on the first floor and grades 2-5 on the second floor, while middle schoolers would move to the second floor of the high school and high schoolers would move to the first floor.

The concept proposes to tear down the pool and build a two-story addition for both middle and high schoolers. Shared spaces would include the media center, robotics lab, cafeteria and gym.

Of the approximately $54.1 million of total bond funds, $46.4 million is budgeted for construction, including fees; $6.1 million is budgeted for technology; $600,000 is budgeted for buses; and $1 million is budgeted for “instruments, furniture, etc.”

Jackie Johnston, assistant superintendent of business services, said an approval in August would mean that construction would not begin until summer 2022, with larger projects not slated to be complete until 2024.

The district is working with construction company Christman and architecture and engineering firm Wakely Associates.

In a March 16 update, CPS Superintendent Tim Wilson said the next step in the bond process is submitting the plan to the Michigan Department of Treasury March 29, with the hope that the state approves the plan and language for the Aug. 3 ballot.

“Once we receive approval from the Department of Treasury for those two things, our school board will vote to approve the ballot language at a special board meeting on April 7, 2021,” Wilson wrote. “After that occurs, we will begin a community informational campaign in late April that will run through August 3, 2021.”

He said the bond proposal includes improvements that will make the district financially strong for “decades to come,” as well as provide state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities, upgrade infrastructure, have a central campus designed to benefit all students, create a new early childhood center, and more.

During the March 15 school board meeting, which took place at the Clawson High School auditorium and was broadcast virtually, board members expressed excitement and nervousness for the proposed bond and all it entails.

“We all love our city and our school district and want to see both continue to grow and flourish for our future generations,” said board President Kimberley Carlesimo.

Treasurer Ted Verner said he was “really comfortable” with the concept approved by the board and that, if the bond passes, the school district could begin sitting down with staff and get into the actual design, allocation of space and square footage.

“I’m just so nervous because I know this is a one-time thing that we can do, and I want to make sure we do it right and we do it well,” Trustee Andrea Hodges said. “It looks like a great job and a great plan, but again, I’m nervous.”

Wilson said the plan improves upon every area, group, teacher and classroom in the district and will bring technology and curriculum into the 21st century. In addition, he highlighted the expanded opportunities for the sharing of spaces and cross education between grade levels and mentorships at one central campus.

He added that he hopes the Schalm Elementary School and Baker properties will be redeveloped with larger, single-family homes, so that families with more children will remain in Clawson.

“I like the size that we are at right now — about 100-125 (students per) class would be great,” Wilson said. “I hope we can get to the point where the only school of choice would be for first grade and kindergarten.”

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