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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1/13/12 - Oakland Press article, "Clarkston school district plans $20 million bond vote for May", by Monica Drake

Interesting article in the Oakland Press about the Clarkston Community Schools' proposed $20 million bond request. 

I urge you to check out the online version as there are public comments after the article that are very insightful.

 
Here is the article:  

Clarkston school district plans $20 million bond vote for May


The Clarkston school board voted to hold a special May election, three months before the regular primary, for residents to vote on a $20 million technology bond.

The cost of a special election is $35,000, which is about the salary of an entry level teacher or aide within the district. The board voted 4-3 on Monday, Jan. 9 in favor of the special election.

Trustee Rosalie Lieblang, who voted against the special election, said: “I do not agree with having a special election for the bond proposal in May. Two years ago, we made a conscious decision to save the district money by moving our school board elections to November for even years.”

Board Treasurer Steve Hyer said he voted for a special election, instead of waiting to put the proposal on the next ballot, because “we save $200,000 in capitalized interest costs by going in May, which far outweighs the small cost of the election.”

“We are able to use our summer tax collections to make our first payment on the bonds. This allows more of the bond dollars to be used in the classroom instead of on administrative capitalized interest costs,” he said.

Vice President Elizabeth Egan and Trustee Barry Bomier, who voted for the special election, were contacted by The Oakland Press, but did not respond before deadline.

If approved, property taxes are projected to increase by 1 mill each year to pay off the bond, which would be retired by 2029. A home with a market value of $200,000 and an state equalized value of $100,000 would pay $100 dollars extra per year. But with a non-qualified bond, the board can increase the number of mills at any time in order to pay principal and interest payments without public approval.

Lieblang said: “While the district is saying it’s one mill, that’s not how this non-qualified bond series works. The public will be asked to vote on a not-to-exceed $20 million proposal. If taxable values go down or delinquencies go up, the district has the ability to levy whatever number of mills it needs to collect the principal interest payment without voter approval.”

Trustee Susan Boatman said the school board has never had a non-qualified bond. “We’ve always run our bonds through the state,” said Boatman. She said with a qualified loan, a district would get the credit rating of the state, which is less interest than an individual school district.

“We’re maxed out on credit with the state because we already levy seven mills to our taxpayers,” she said.

 According to administration, some capital needs the bond would be used on is: upgrading technology and increase mobile technology (with iPads, netbooks, etc.), installation of district-wide wireless access, replace five to seven-year-old computers, enhance security systems, resurface tennis courts, improvements to parking lots and sidewalks, updating energy management systems, security improvement to the gym’s interior doors and improvements to restroom fixtures.

Board President Cheryl McGinnis said the “bond proposal will enhance the learning environment for all students in Clarkston Community Schools.”

Hyer said: “Ultimately, we expect student achievement to increase as a result of these initiatives. We are not using technology as a gimmick, and we are not simply replacing books with e-books. We are looking to advance the way we think about and do teaching and learning in Clarkston.”

Hyer said the bond money would be issued to the school in three series so new technology could be purchased in several years. He said a first series of $10 million would be issued upon successful passage of the election, and two subsequent series of $5 million would be issued in 2016 and 2020.

“This will allow us to be sustainable in keeping our teaching and learning infrastructure and capital needs up-to-date through 2024 at least,” said Hyer.

Boatman said, at a previous meeting, she asked what happens if the board defaults, or fails to pay, the bond payments. “We have already defaulted at the state level, but at the state level, they have something called a school bond loan fund that bails out school districts and pays their interest payments. The state is in trouble because all school districts are doing this,” she said.

Boatman said at the Jan. 9 meeting, she found out that, with a non-qualified bond, the district can’t default because the bond no longer goes through the state. Instead, they would automatically increase the millage rate.

Trustee Joan Patterson said multiple technology pilots with iPads and netbooks are currently ongoing through the district at all grade levels. She said she thinks the results of these pilots should be assessed so the board knows how technology directly affects students before more money is spent.

“I’m going to be painted as a person who doesn’t care about kids. I care that what we’re spending our money on is on kids,” she said. “This is my responsibility as a school board member to make sure we can afford it, that it’s what our kids need now and we’ve done the research. And I don’t think we’ve done the due diligence to say that yet.”

Boatman said: “It’s too early to get results for those pilots. I feel asking the taxpayers to pay for technology is premature until we get results to know that using this technology really makes a difference in student achievement.”

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