Voters to decide GPPSS $111 million bond referendum Nov. 6

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 30, 2018


GROSSE POINTES — On Election Day, Nov. 6, registered voters within the Grosse Pointe Public School System will vote on several races and proposals, including the district’s $111,040,000 bond referendum.

If the bond referendum passes, it will provide for a number of what the school district identifies as “critical needs,” including building enhancements, security improvements and technology updates. If passed, the bond proposal will raise taxes among GPPSS residents, which will generate the funds needed for the updates.

A bond issue is a state-approved funding process for a group of planned projects 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 proposed bond projects fall into four major categories to keep students “safe,” “warm,” “dry” and “connected.” The bond is a 20-year bond; 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, and the completion of asbestos abatement in ceilings where energy-efficient lighting is being installed. “Safe” also includes installing door locking systems in all GPPSS buildings, and making improvements to building sites, including paving, fencing and emergency lighting.

The “warm” bond 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. However, according to district officials, the bond proposal will not provide one-to-one technology, such as Chromebook computers.

According to the ballot language, the debt millage levy required to retire all bonds of the school district currently outstanding and proposed by this ballot proposal is estimated to be at or below 1.5 mills higher than the debt millage levy for 2018. The estimated millage to be levied in 2019 to service this issue of bonds is 1.82 mills ($1.82 per $1,000 of taxable value) and the estimated simple average annual millage rate required to retire the bonds of this issue is 2.21 mills ($2.21 per $1,000 of taxable value).

District officials have provided a formula to determine a homeowner’s annual cost: multiply 0.0015 by the state equalized value of the home. (The SEV should be approximately one-half the market value of the home. For instance, if the home would sell for $300,000, the SEV is $150,000.)

As another example, a homeowner with a $200,000 market value would pay approximately $150 per year. For a home with a market value of $300,000, the homeowner would pay $225 per year should the bond initiative pass. With a home market value of $400,000, the new tax would be approximately $300 per year.

‘We have spent a lot of time prioritizing’
At the June 11 GPPSS Board of Education meeting, the board voted 5-2 to place the bond initiative on the ballot. Board Secretary Cindy Pangborn and Trustee Ahmed Ismail voted against the measure. Board members Brian Summerfield, Margaret Weertz, Judy Gafa, Kathleen Abke and Christopher Profeta voted in favor of the bond initiative.

“This bond has gone through a lot of meetings. A lot of the community has already been involved with this process,” Summerfield, the board president, said at the time of the vote. “It’s really three years in the making. It’s time we do this and move forward with this, because the district needs it.”

The board’s vote to put the bond proposal on the ballot came after facility needs were studied last year by a Blue Ribbon Facilities Committee comprising community members, teachers, staff and administrators. In the spring of 2017, school officials also hired the company of Plante Moran Cresa to conduct an assessment of building needs within the district. The company created a critical needs list of building updates to be addressed as soon as possible.

During the winter and spring of 2018, district officials held town hall meetings at each school building so school officials, parents, community members and staff could discuss the district’s needs, as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Facilities Committee.

“I cannot support the proposed bond because the board refuses to deal with the results of the Plante Moran Cresa study and make a spending plan with specific needs prioritized,” Pangborn said in an email, adding that her statements are her personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of other board members or administrators. “As it stands now, it would be a blank check to be used wherever this board and future boards choose.”

According to Pangborn, the bond proposal “in no way guarantees keeping any particular schools open.”

“We know that the two high schools will remain. They will receive the bond money first,” she said, stressing that she feels the first step is to sell the administration building at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City and move the employees who work there into a building that has excess space. “Instead, there is over a million dollars in spending for this building in renovation.”

Pangborn is in favor of the district going with a sinking fund for a smaller amount and time period.

“With a sinking fund, you do not have to pay debt service, which is going to cost us over $2 million for this bond. We could have successfully done immediate projects and then gone back to the voters if we had proved we were successful,” she said.

Ismail is not against the bond proposal, but he didn’t support the motion because of the ballot language.

“The scope of work it allows is so open-ended that future boards and administrations can do most anything they want with the funds. Town hall meeting attendees were told the bond would not be used for building additions, furniture or student computer devices, yet the bond language allows the bond proceeds to be spent on all of these items,” Ismail said in an email. “While our existing board and administration may have the best of intentions, the bond proceeds will be spent by future boards and administration who will look to one place and one place only as to what they can or can’t spend money on — the actual bond language. The language does not bind them to spending this huge sum of money as was promised voters in the town hall meetings.”  

If the bond proposal passes, district Superintendent Gary Niehaus said, school officials are planning to sell the bonds in two series. The first will be sold in 2019; the second in 2022.

“We have spent a lot of time prioritizing,” district Community Relations Specialist Rebecca Fannon said.

The first phase will focus on school security districtwide and both Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South high schools. Putting the second series of bonds off until 2022 will give the school board time to work through any possible school closings before more investments are made to the elementary and middle schools.

If the bond passes, the new tax would be on the winter 2019-20 tax bill. At this time, there is no architect or construction manager. Should the bond initiative pass, Niehaus said, the architect would be hired by Nov. 24 and the construction manager by Dec. 10.

Niehaus said Plante Moran Cresa — on behalf of the district — will oversee the bond projects as the owner’s representative and will work with the architect and construction manager.

If the bond does not pass, Niehaus said, school officials will take input from the voters about the outcome and go back to the Blue Ribbon Facilities Committee. As for the building improvements, Niehaus said the district will be “patching and patching” just to get through another season.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

For more information on the bond proposal, visit and click on the “School Bond 2018” header, contact Superintendent Gary Niehaus at (313) 432-3010, or contact any school principal.