As members of an operations subcommittee continue to study the bond issue for Ferndale schools, they are charged not just with deciding how to allocate potential funds for building repairs.
The group of about 20 Ferndale residents also must decide when to put the issue to voters, and the move could mean the difference between millions of dollars to modernize infrastructure and a school such as going another year without air conditioning or an actual kitchen for meal preparation.
The subcommittee discussed for the first time Thursday at Roosevelt the political feasibiity of putting the bond up for a vote in February during the 2012 Republican presidential primary.
Many feel it's a double-edged sword
The subcommittee agreed that putting the issue on the February ballot would be a good move in order to maximize the amount of the bond to $24 million — an amount Ferndale Public School Operations Director Gary Sophiea said is "badly needed" to make all necesary repairs. After February, the capacity of the bond would drop dramatically due to complicated state regulations and declining property values.
But then there is the issue of voter turnout in February, which many subcommittee members said would consist of a heavily Republican electorate not as likely to support a school bond — especially in a climate of anti-government spending that is expected to grow during the upcoming voting season.
"I want this bond to succeed," said Kevin Deegan-Krause, a subcommittee member who presented voting statistics to the group. "That's why I'm so passionate about this, and my first reaction in my research was, 'holy (expletive), this is a really bad time for an election.' "
Among his findings: In the 2010 Ferndale school board election, a total of 1,568 voters from all parties turned out to vote. In the 2008 Republican presidential primary, however, 1,787 Republican voters showed up at the polls in the Ferndale voting district, eclipsing voters from all other parties.
Deegan-Krause reached out to several political experts across the country for their opinions on Republican voting patterns when it comes to school referendums and received mixed responses by email, he said.
For example, Deegan-Krause said one political professor pointed out a feasibility study outside Michigan for a school district operating referendum showing that support for the issue was 15 percent to 20 percent lower among Republicans.
Deegan-Krause said another professor from Cornell University wrote to him in an email that while he has no data to back up Republican-Democrat voting patterns when it comes to schools, the professor would be "very concerned" about having a vote on a day that was primary for only one party during which a significant bloc of voters appear to be against government spending.
Superintendent feels need supersedes politics
Still other responses seemed to show less concern from a political perspective for the issue, Deegan-Krause said, an opinion shared by Ferndale Schools Superintendent Gary Meier.
"My experience with Republican voters is that they have always been very supportive of school issues," said Meier, who used to work in a heavily Republican school district in Ohio.
"Maintenance bond issues are slightly more likely to pass because they're considered bread and butter," Meier continued. "The sell always has to be on the basis of need."
The bond subcommittee plans to meet at least twice again before Aug. 15, when it must present a finalized list of bond items and a recommended bond amount to the Board of Education.
The school board ultimately will vote on the terms of the bond, when it will be sent for a vote, and the final price tag.
One of the biggest action items is the removal of asbestos from the ceilings at . Other items include significant repairs at Roosevelt, such as installing a kitchen. Currently, food is delivered there from the high school every school day.