Whether the proposed school bond would help increase student performance was among the issues residents heard arguments for and against Sunday afternoon at an issue forum hosted by Citizens for a Fair Ferndale.
About 25 people showed up for the event, where representatives of a pro-school bond group as well as an opposing viewpoint addressed written questions in a discussion led by a moderator at the Ferndale Public Library.
The $22.825 million bond was studied over the summer. It includes infrastructure updates such as asbestos removal from Ferndale High School, heating and cooling systems for buildings and a kitchen area for Roosevelt Primary School. Residents will vote on the proposed bond Feb. 28.
Robert Bokram, treasurer of Citizens for Quality Schools — a group that has been advocating for the bond — spoke as did Tom Gagne, who has written editorials against the proposed bond.
Bokram said passing the bond would benefit students, help increase property values and represent a commitment to the future – all without raising the millage rate. Gagne said the bond isn't focused on educating students and would be extending the millage in a district with declining enrollment that can't compete with surrounding districts, and doing so without plans or goals set for improving student test scores.
Student performance, past bond projects discussed
A main point of discussion Sunday revolved around whether the proposed bond projects would help to increase student achievement and test scores.
Regarding the infrastructure improvements proposed, Gagne asked: “Is that going to improve test scores? Bring new educational experiences? Lower administrative costs?
“I would rather our community focus on the results of what we are investing in.”
Bokram said it has been proven that when you invest in infrastructure, “you do help the community.” Investing in the right curriculum and technologies, he said, pointing out that technology improvements including wireless Internet access and smart boards are part of the bond, will help students and improve test scores.
“That would significantly enhance the ability of our children to learn,” he said.
Another discussion focused on previous bond projects – the proposed bond would extend the current bond issue beyond its scheduled expiration in 2023 to 2041 — and why the current needs weren't completed with that funding.
“We're back here again … and we're after the same things,” Gagne said, pointing out that asbestos removal was a planned project in the previous bond.
Bokram said that despite other bond projects being prioritized higher on the list in the past, he is glad the needs are being addressed now. “It's important,” he said.
The percentage of students coming in from different districts was also discussed, along with the number of Ferndale families sending their children to other districts.
“These are all our students … we want to educate them all,” Bokram said. As for families leaving the district, he said, “What a great opportunity to fix that problem by investing in the schools.”
But Gagne said the bond doesn't have a plan to address Ferndale schools losing those families. “It's not for new buildings, folks,” he said, referring to why he thinks families turn to other districts.
Gagne, a Ferndale resident, said after the forum that during the past few years, he has researched the bond issue extensively, looking for answers. “The numbers kept telling me that no, it doesn't make sense,” he said.
He said his children attend school in another district — a decision his family made in 2003 at the recommendation of one of his children's teachers, he said.
Other topics included bond project details and oversight. Residents can get information on this and more on the district website.
Forum guests react to presentations
Frank O'Donnell, a Ferndale resident and former school board president, said he supports the bond but was interested in some of the information brought forth by Gagne. “I don't think it nullified the need for the bond, but it was interesting,” he said. “I thought both of the speakers made their cases in a calm, rational way.”
Jim O'Donnell, president of the Ferndale library board, said he supports the bond. “It's certainly important to educate the public about the need for the bond,” he said. “I was glad to see people here because I support the bond. I certainly hope people come out to vote for it on February 28th.”
Jason Krzysiak, a Pleasant Ridge city commissioner, attended the forum and said he was glad to see so many residents involved in the issue. “I think it was great,” he said. “The more citizens have the opportunity to take part in events like this, it makes for better votes, a better election and better communities.”
Helen Weber of Ferndale said her mind was already made up before the forum, but she appreciated getting to hear both sides. “I thought that was a good thing,” she said. “Both presenters were prepared, just different perspectives.”
Citizens group pleased with turnout
Citizens for a Fair Ferndale, which does not take a position on the bond issue, hosted the forum to provide a safe, moderated environment where voters could gather the information they need to make an informed decision on the issue, the group's chairperson, Kat Bruner James, said last week.
Kelly Farrah, secretary of the group, said she was pleased with the turnout. “I'm always happy when the seats get filled,” she said.
She said even more residents are likely to get the information when the forum is broadcast on public access station WFRN-TV (Channel 10 on WOW, Channel 17 on Comcast, Channel 99 on AT&T U-verse). Broadcast times/dates are to be announced.
“I know that it'll get heard for sure,” she said.
The voter forum Sunday was the group's fourth voter forum focused exclusively on a ballot question.
For more information, call 248-515-7803 or visit fairferndale.org.