GPPSS bond proposal passes

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 13, 2018

 Jennifer Pierce, who is on the Parent Teacher Organization at Monteith Elementary School, and her son, a second-grade student, were at Brownell Middle School on Election Day Nov. 6. She supported the $111 million Grosse Pointe Public School System bond referendum that passed Tuesday.

Jennifer Pierce, who is on the Parent Teacher Organization at Monteith Elementary School, and her son, a second-grade student, were at Brownell Middle School on Election Day Nov. 6. She supported the $111 million Grosse Pointe Public School System bond referendum that passed Tuesday.

Photo by Maria Allard

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GROSSE POINTES — Building enhancements, security improvements and technology updates are in the future for the Grosse Pointe Public School System.

On Election Day Nov. 6, the district’s voting majority passed the $111,040,000 bond referendum. According to the unofficial results from the Wayne County Clerk’s Office, there were 16,557 “yes” votes and 13,303 “no” votes.

The bond referendum will raise tax dollars among residents that will generate funding to update the district’s buildings. A bond issue is a state-approved funding process for a group of planned projects that are not part of the general operating budget. When voters approve a bond proposal, the school district sells bonds in the authorized amount and uses the proceeds of the sale to pay for those projects. Under Michigan law, bond money cannot be used to pay teacher or administrator salaries, for routine maintenance or repair costs, or for other school district operating expenses.

According to GPPSS school officials, the average age of the district’s buildings is 77 years old, and the bond falls into four categories to keep students “safe,” “warm,” “dry” and “connected.” The bond is for 20 years; projects are slated for completion within the next five or six years.

Under the “safe” list, the district will implement safety and security improvements, including the addition of secure vestibules, security cameras, public announcement system updates, the completion of asbestos abatement in ceilings where energy-efficient lighting is being installed, and more.

The “warm” items include having efficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems and electrical upgrades. The “dry” portion bond projects include the replacement of roofs, energy conservation, and mechanical system improvements.

Keeping students “connected” will focus on acquiring and installing technology infrastructure, including buildingwide wiring to support instructional technology equipment.

Last week, GPPSS Superintendent Gary Niehaus issued a statement via email regarding the election results.

“The official results are in and School Bond 2018 passed with 55 percent of the votes amidst impressive voter turnout,” Niehaus said. “Over 70 percent of our community spoke at the polls. And we as a district continue to listen. Thank you for supporting our neighborhood schools that are such an integral component of our healthy and vibrant community. Now the real work begins and we look forward to seeing who steps forward from the community to help at the various levels of oversight.”

According to Niehaus, as plans move forward, regular updates will be provided “to demonstrate how the bond supports the school system’s strategic plan, mission and vision.”

While nothing has been confirmed or voted on, there has been talk of closing buildings. Because of that, Niehaus said, the first series of the bond will focus on buildings that will remain open. The first phase will focus on school security districtwide and both Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South high schools.

Niehaus said the district will put off the second series of bonds until 2022. This will give the school board time to work through possible closings before more investments are made to the elementary and middle schools.


Community response
Not everyone was in favor of the bond initiative. The local group Residents For Responsible Spending — made up of about 15 GPPSS residents — campaigned against it using the slogan “Not This Bond, Vote No.”

While the committee agreed there are legitimate projects that need to be addressed throughout the district, the group felt that the bond proposal was reckless and an exorbitant amount of money for the taxpayers to bear.

Because of Grosse Pointe’s enrollment decrease in recent years and its projected decrease in future years, Residents For Responsible Spending is concerned that some school buildings might be underutilized in the district. Members also are concerned that bond dollars could be used to update a school building that will end up being closed down the road.

On behalf of Residents for Responsible Spending, Kelly Boll released a statement to the media regarding the outcome of the bond election.

“Now that the bond has been approved, Residents for Responsible Spending feel it is critical the district give taxpayers a strict accounting on how the bond money is being spent. It is imperative the school district shares weekly with the community its detailed plan and actions on the school website,” according to the statement. “The taxpayer deserves to know which projects have been put through the competitive bidding process, what costs and fees are, and start and completion dates. We expect the district to begin planning and reducing its facility footprint so the taxpayer can be assured funds are not wasted.”

Wendy Saigh, who ran for school board but finished fourth behind Brian Summerfield, Margaret Weertz and Christopher Lee Nov. 6, also spoke out against the bond. She was out at the polls on Election Day, including a stop at Maire Elementary School, where she waited outside with a “Not This Bond, Vote No” campaign sign.

“I think we need to look at other revenue strategies,” Saigh said.

That includes better utilizing the district’s sinking fund, which is a limited property tax to be used to fund building maintenance and infrastructure projects.

Currently, Grosse Pointe’s sinking fund brings in $2.5 million to the district per year through local property taxes, and residents are paying 1.5 mills. However, according to school officials, the sinking fund does not generate enough funding to address the needs.

“We’re losing up to 100 students a year. Our buildings are currently underutilized,” Saigh said. “I think it’s a matter or prioritizing the critical needs list. Part of my concern is we’ll end up putting money into schools that might close or be repurposed.”

Saigh also feels that the Wayne RESA millage money could address some of the repairs on the bond’s critical needs list.

In the months leading up to the election, the “Yes For GP Schools” committee campaigned in full support of the bond initiative. The group comprised about 15 people who believed that passing the bond would provide better and safer schools and a stronger community.

Although not a committee member, Monteith Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization member Jennifer Pierce was at Brownell Middle School with her son carrying a “Yes For GP Schools” sign on Election Day.

“I am very hopeful that it is going to pass,” she said. “The safety of our students is of utmost importantance. ... While we hope nothing horrible will happen, you have to be prepared.”

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Beth Moran, who is a retired GPPSS special education teacher, also wanted to see the bond pass. She, her husband and four children all graduated from the district.

“I’m involved in the preservation of Grosse Pointe South (High School). We have spent quite a lot of money restoring the roof. There isn’t money in the budget to do all the restoration at South,” Moran said. “The bond is really crucial to the district. They’re not set up for Wi-Fi. There is security that needs to be done. The town halls had so much information for people. The district has been very transparent.”

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