PENNING: Considering school bond proposal is tough homework assignment

It’s been hard to know how to vote this Nov. 5 on the Spring Lake Public Schools bond proposal. I’ve been torn about the prospect of another increase in taxes.
Oct 10, 2013

 

I’m an educator at the college level and value education. I recognize the civic responsibility to support public education, even though my wife and I don’t have children. These initial thoughts would make me favorable toward a proposal that would improve local schools and help them maintain their good quality.

But there are also certain realities that trouble me. One is that I do not make a significant amount of money. So, even though the proposal would cost most homeowners in the Spring Lake school district “only” about $40 to $50 more per year, that is on top of annual property taxes that exceed $2,000. A few “onlys” add up quickly.

Because of this conflict in my head, I attended a public forum in which Superintendent Dennis Furton gave a presentation and answered questions. Attendees were also given a considerable amount of literature to digest about the proposal. About 25 people attended the event at Jeffers Elementary School earlier this week, and stayed nearly two hours.

Here are a few points that I consider most relevant that I think are worth considering as all of us contemplate a vote next month:

The proposed facility upgrades are not a "wish list" of things that would be nice to have. Engineers did a facility assessment on the 60-year-old elementary school buildings and determined upgrades to facilities and technology that are needed are so expensive in the older buildings that new construction makes more sense.

One key take-away from teachers at the meeting is that their classrooms cannot be temperature-controlled by outdated thermostats and boiler systems that are beyond repair. Rooms typically are near 80 or even 90 degrees. Even in winter, some teachers open classroom windows to make the classroom more comfortable.

New buildings also would enable more space and furnishings that are conducive to modern teaching styles, which involves more collaborative learning activities versus sitting in rows of desks. As a college professor, I hear from employers who say that is how the workplace is changing also, to more collaborative work styles. Facilities that allow for educating children in this manner will better prepare them for college and the workplace.

Some residents complained that the proposal includes funding for athletics, which could possibly more appropriately be funded by private fundraising. But the athletic-related projects account for only 8 percent of the total proposal. Also, improvements like artificial turf actually will save the district money over time in maintenance costs.

Some were concerned about having one elementary school and causing many children who now can walk to school to need to be bused. It was pointed out that when the current schools were built, about 90 percent of the students lived in Spring Lake Village, in walking distance to Holmes Elementary School. Today, that number is 10 percent or less.

With regard to the increase in taxes, it was helpful to compare Spring Lake to other school districts in the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. If the proposal passes, the total millage would be 7.0, which is eighth out of the 11 districts. The highest is Coopersville at 8.69 and the lowest is Saugatuck at 3 mills.

There was also a sense of urgency to the proposal. The Michigan Legislature capped the School Bond Loan Fund at $1.8 billion, and the fund is nearing the cap. If the proposal passes this year, the taxpayers will have a 0.569 mill increase. But if not, the same proposal without being able to benefit from the School Bond Loan Fund would require a nearly 5-mill increase.

When asked about plans should the proposal fail, the superintendent said there is none. They may come back to the voters with an alternate or scaled-down request. Some in the room seemed surprised that there was not any thought given to contingencies.

There were a lot of other issues discussed at the recent meeting. Perhaps voters have even more thoughts in favor of or opposed to the proposal. I’d be interested to read them in letters to this paper or comments on this column.

I know I appreciated the presentation by the superintendent, and his response to questions and comments of taxpayers in the room.

The proposal is a big decision, affecting us all for three decades. I’ve done my homework and will continue to study the issue before the proposal meets the test of voter approval in November.

— By Tim Penning, Tribune community columnist. A collection of Tim Penning’s columns is available in the book “Thoughts on Thursdays,” available at The Bookman.

Comments

Zegota

I believe we must also consider the likely successful request from the Spring Lake Township Fire Department for an increase in public funds by the way of a new tax.
With the additional cost of building a new elementary school I wonder if we are seriously considering all those that are on limited income and our ever growing population of Senior Citizens.
We should also consider the runaway growing national debt, this is one Monster that is about ready to strike us all, and soon, do we prepare as a community, or do we join the dreams and hope of Washington D.C., or face reality.
A real solution would be that the state of Michigan consider legislation that would remove the public school taxes from those who have paid it all there life, and who are now Senior Citizens.
Good luck.

christopher

A couple of years ago when Muskegon was considering artificial turf, they took the cost of the turf divided by the life span per year and then divided by the average number of home games per season. The figure was MORE THAN 6,000 per game. WOW.

That is a lot of money for a football field. The current field we have is a GREAT place. It is a unique waterfront venue that is worthy of further consideration where it is at.

I very much think we need to look at a plan B instead of this 60 MILLION dollar plan.

I believe the SLPS puts out a good student product ... one of the best in the state. What do the people of our community think we will gain in greater student achievement with this 60 MILLION dollar expenditure.

I am very concerned about the supporters not having a plan B. It sort of sounds like our president with an arrogant all or nothing plan. I have seen this many times before. Public entities throw out a a HUGE pie-in-the-sky plan to see if it will stick. If it gets approved great. If not, they come back at further tax payer expense with a little more reasonable approach and then keep doing it until finally they get reasonable enough for the community to support the plan.

It is disappointing that they did not support a more balanced approach.

winston

Given that the Varsity, JV, Freshmen, 8th Grade, 7th Grade, and youth football teams would play home games on the field and or two of those teams will practice on it daily...and that the Varsity and JV LAX teams would play home games on the field and practice on it daily...and that marching band would practice daily on the field throughout the fall...and that the grass would not need to be mowed, fertilized, watered, or lined...my guess is that your $6,000 is just a wee bit off. Per hour of use for the synthetic vs. natural grass is the factor to consider...and very dramatically favors synthetic. That means more money to spend on classrooms (which means learning).

You should think about things before you comment - if you care about SLPS, more facts and less 'bad math' would benefit you and anyone like me who wastes his time reading these comments.

LakerAlum87

My understanding is that Grabinski Field will remain if the bond is passed and that the Middle School will still use it therefore it will still need to be maintained. It is currently not used for practices. Currently the 8th grade football team practices behind the Middle School while the JV and Varsity Football Teams practice at the High School. There is no Freshman team this year. I'm not sure as you say that all those teams would practice on the proposed new field. Practices typically run 2 hours. I'm guessing some would practice on adjoining fields or still at the Middle School.
The question is what is needed vs what is desired. I would love a turf field. I think it would be awesome but is it truly needed? That is a question that the voters need to decide.

christopher

In a recent conversation with AD at SL they said that field would not be used as you describe it. The fact is that no one has publicly committed to exactly when each field would or would not be used. Notice that I did NOT say this would be the cost for Spring Lake. Since I have not yet been able to get he exact figure about the cost of artificial turf at SL it is hard to figure. What I was showing was the cost for Muskegon based on home Varsity games. Keep in mind that Spring Lake will continue to maintain and use the current field so many of the activities you have associated with the new field will NOT (according to published materials) be played on the new field.

LakerAlum87

A couple of years ago I asked the AD what it would cost to turf the current football and soccer fields. He estimated at that time it would be over a million. Because of new information related to the low water table and how high the fields would have to be raised one would assume the cost would go up significantly so turfing the current fields doesn't seem to be economical. I'm not sure if I have read where the organization who told the school this has gone on record so at this point the school is asking us to believe their statement which I'm not saying is false. I would just like to hear it from the source and maybe I just missed them saying it.

christopher

I agree with you LakerAlum87. I certainly appreciate "third party" verification.

Big Swed

Only in America will you find the public complaining about the National Debt (if the media indicates we are concerned). Those in charge of spending at the national level act like 60 million or 20 billion are a drop in the bucket. Even those commenting on spending levels for the S.L Bond proposal indicate certain costs are only a few million, i.e. athletic fields, because they believe it is not their money. Taxpayers that are expected to pay for the new Spring Lake bond proposal are asked to approve an expenditure with funds that we do not have. There is also no mention of unexpected costs beyond the $62,000,000 that we must pay for. It would possibly help taxpayers to support the bond if there was a more systematic detailed list of what it would cost to simply upgrade the current boilers, electrical systems, cooling systems,roofs, technology, security in the current buildings instead of tearing those buildings down. Were the students asked what they thought of the bond proposal? They represent part of the generation that may even be required to pay for the proposal along with our Social Security Benefits! Passing the bond proposal would certainly be a feather in the cap of the aspiring Dennis Furton and certainly help his resume'. It would also represent a long term burden on local taxpayers.

William Werner

Your article indicates that "Some residents complained that the proposal includes funding for athletics, which could possibly more appropriately be funded by private fundraising. But the athletic-related projects account for only 8 percent of the total proposal." However, 8 percent of the total $59.8 million bond proposal does result in a significant amount--just over $4.75 million!

 

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