Information session on school proposals raise questions
By DEB WUETHRICH
Approximately 16 residents of the Tecumseh School District listened to an information session in the high school library on two bond issue proposals presented by Tecumseh Public School Superintendent Mike McAran and Interim Business Manager Bill Wright last Thursday. The administrators said the $12 million Proposal I and $24 million Proposal II, to be on the ballot May 6, would mean no change in the millage rate of 7.2 mills which would simply be extended.
“With the bond we could recapture dollars that can go back into other areas,” said McAran as he pointed out proposed improvements to district facilities from aging roofs to new athletic fields by using a Power Point presentation. He said the district has been budgeting approximately $250,000 each school year from its general fund to address the most urgent issues such as elementary school boiler replacements as they occur. “This just isn’t adequate for everything,” he said, noting that a Tecumseh Middle School roof project could cost $1.5 million rather than receive constant patchwork which also is expensive. “It just becomes more than you can do,” McAran said.
Tecumseh resident Neal Adams asked about the longevity of the proposed improvements. “The reason I ask is this will be our third millage increase in like 10 years,” he said. Adams said, “You want all and more but you’re living in a day and age now when you have got to be a lot more practical than that and if you put this to the public, you’re going to have to justify a lot more than what I see here.”
McAran said one of the problems is that many components of the facilities are reaching their life spans, such as 52-year-old stadium bleachers and aging light poles. He said such work as roofs and boilers would have warranties, however.
“I’m not suggesting that I’m necessarily opposed,” said Adams, “but I am suggesting that you have got to have more accountability for your 12 million dollars and that you are taking steps in the right direction. As far as the extra [in Proposal II] I don’t think you have a prayer on that myself.”
Tecumseh resident Stan Ames said while there might be agreement among taxpayers for work such as the roofs and boilers — the fundamentals — he took issue with a need to remodel elementary school buildings to bring offices in view of entrances. Ames said it was a matter of assessing risk. “I don’t know if I want to spend $4 million so the principal can sit in the front of the building,” he said. Ames, along with Tecumseh Township resident John Kuenzer, also questioned why the district would finance computers that would be obsolete in five years over the life of the proposed bond.
McAran said equipment is one of the areas of permissible spending utilizing the School Bond Loan program and a way to upgrade the district’s technology needs, freeing up general fund dollars for other instructional needs. He also pointed out that in addition to basic needs, the bond proposals were drawn up based on what people have said that they would like to have for their children as well as to enhance the district’s ability to compete.
“The nice thing about it is the American public gets to choose what they want to have,” McAran said. “It’s our job to put up the information and your decision when you vote.”
Resident Sue Ives suggested that the district might have to do some reassessment.
“Maybe there are other ways to tighten our belts rather than taking this to the taxpayers again,” Ives said. “Maybe we need to scrap this and look at what we have to work with and work within our means. I agree we need to do the work that keeps buildings accessible and to have the basics, but we can’t provide for everything for every student.” She said it was frustrating that the school district was coming back to the taxpayers after just passing bond issues in 1998 for a new high school and for renovation projects a couple of years later.
“Part of the issue is that the state is requiring more programs,” said Tecumseh School Board President Mark Wolfe, who also attended the session. “The state is setting standards for educational performance without providing compensation to do it,” he said. Wolfe said the state has not kept up the promised increases to student foundation allowances for several years now, though utilities and other costs continue to rise.
“There are more mandates from the state of Michigan,” said McAran, adding that a number of costs that are rising come in the form of special education mandates. “What we face now as we look at programs is do you cut it or let it go? That’s what we’ll have to decide. In some cases, the only thing we can do is go for the bond.”
Wright compared the millage rate extension to a homeowner with a leaking roof who might refinance the home at the same rate but for an extended period of time. Kuenzer said he disagreed with that logic, however. “You’re not refinancing the bond that you had, you’re adding to your debt,” Kuenzer said. “You are taking a 12-year mortgage and making it a 30-year mortgage with the same payment, working a lot longer to pay it off.”
At least three audience members also questioned where the funds would come from for operational maintenance of the proposed facilities. McAran said there would be less labor-intensive work for staff such as custodial workers to do and used the example of having an auxiliary gymnasium. “You wouldn’t have the custodial staff having to set up and take down equipment between uses such as we do now for competitive cheer, for instance.” One gentleman also suggested that the district should explore forming a volunteer program of parents and senior citizens to help with school tasks.
“That’s a good idea,” McAran said.
The Committee for Kids First also held a planning session and kick-off rally in the school cafetorium Thursday night. The group is charged with getting out the vote for the two bond issues.