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 Community members congregated at Farmington Hills City Council Feb. 6 for a town hall, where they were able to ask questions and express their thoughts regarding the $98 million school bond proposal on the March 10 ballot.

Community members congregated at Farmington Hills City Council Feb. 6 for a town hall, where they were able to ask questions and express their thoughts regarding the $98 million school bond proposal on the March 10 ballot.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


School bond town hall raises concerns of transparency, planning

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published February 17, 2020

 Farmington Community Library Board member Bill Largent; Sue Burstein-Kahn, of Farmington Kids 1st; and Fritz Beiermeister, of the 2015 Citizens Oversight Committee, answer residents’ questions regarding Farmington Public Schools’ $98 million school bond proposal.

Farmington Community Library Board member Bill Largent; Sue Burstein-Kahn, of Farmington Kids 1st; and Fritz Beiermeister, of the 2015 Citizens Oversight Committee, answer residents’ questions regarding Farmington Public Schools’ $98 million school bond proposal.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FARMINGTON HILLS —  As residents draw closer to deciding whether or not to approve a $98 million bond proposal for Farmington Public Schools March 10, concerns of trust, transparency and adequate plans stemming from the $131.5 million bond voters approved in 2015 loom for some residents.

On Feb. 6, the Farmington Area Republicans hosted a town hall at City Hall with special guest presenters Sue Burstein-Kahn, a founder of the community group Farmington Kids 1st; Fritz Beiermeister, who sat on the 2015 bond Citizens Oversight Committee; and Bill Largent, of the Farmington Community Library board, all of whom presented their case against supporting the bond as currently proposed.

The presenters reiterated that their opposition to the current bond does not represent opposition to all bonds or financially helping the district move forward. Before they can support the bond, however, Burstein-Kahn said she wants to see a plan for how the bond dollars will be spent and a plan to “fix” the district’s educational outcomes, which she said she’s been waiting on for years.

Plans showing what will be proposed at each school building are on the district’s website, as well as several links detailing how bond dollars from 2015 were allocated and how decisions were made. Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Robert Herrera announced at his inaugural State of the Cities address a two-year plan, beginning in May, to transform the educational practices in the district.

Still, Burstein-Kahn said she is reluctant to change her opinion, despite having looked at information on the district’s website, saying there is still a lack of trust and transparency.

“My focus is transparency, honesty and doing what you’re supposed to do,” she said, “and fixing the educational turmoil this district is in.”

Herrera however, despite not being with the district during the previous bond approval, doesn’t agree that a lack of transparency is, or ever was, an issue. He said the Citizen Oversight Committee members regularly met to discuss bond items, and items were presented to the Board of Education trustees before approval.

Herrera said there were one or two decisions well into the bond process — reallocating money for Harrison High School to Alameda Early Childhood Center — where community members weren’t given a chance to weigh in. Those decisions were discussed with the Citizens Oversight Committee members, though.

“I don’t know that the decisions weren’t transparent. I just believe the community or the Oversight Committee thought they should have more say in the decision,” he said, adding that Board of Education trustees make the final decisions on bond projects.

Beiermeister, who sat on the Oversight Committee, said that when the reallocation of $15 million from Harrison High School to Alameda Early Childhood Center was discussed, Oversight Committee members suggested the district save that money if administrators didn’t plan to use it as originally forecasted. District administrators decided otherwise.

“The decision for Alameda and Farmington Community School to be combined is an educationally sound decision. This is a good thing for our district. Those two buildings haven’t been touched in I can’t even tell you how long,” said Diane Bauman, the district’s community relations director. “Bringing them together for efficiency — we had to do that.”

Burstein-Kahn said that improvements to Alameda were not all for naught, though she doesn’t agree on spending taxpayer money on a project not approved in the initial proposal or investing in the potential to recruit new preschoolers before mitigating issues she believe plague the current students of the district.

While Burstein-Kahn may be holding her support until she receives plans she’s satisfied with, something Herrera said may not be possible to deliver, others are simply left questioning why the Oversight Committee process wasn’t used again for the upcoming bond proposal.

Herrera said that, despite being new to the district, coming in as the Board of Education trustees were making those decisions, he doesn’t feel the district needs the community’s input when it comes to the critical infrastructure needs that were identified by Plante Moran, a third-party engineering firm contracted by the district. He added that community engagement should come in the form of providing a vision that the district can implement.

“When you talk about community input, I think our job is to inform the community of what the bond details are and why there’s a need for it, and then they can make an informed decision on whether they’re going to support it or not.”

With 85% of the school district’s funding currently going toward personnel and instructional costs that support education and extracurricular activities, Herrera said that, without the approval of the bond, the district will likely have to cut into that portion of its operational budget to fund infrastructure needs.

He added that the district hasn’t discussed whether or not it will pursue the same, or a refined, bond proposal on any ballots following March 10 if the current proposal fails at the polls.

“We’ll wait and see what occurs, what the votes are, and wait for feedback from the community as we reflect on it, and then make a decision,” Herrera said.

For more information, visit farmington.k12.mi.us/bond2020.

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