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School District to Seek $22.8 Million Bond in February

After nine weeks of meeting, deliberating and discussing, subcommittee comes to a consensus.

The Ferndale Board of Education on Monday night unanimously approved putting a $22.8 million school bond before voters on Feb. 28, 2012. If passed, the bond would extend a bond of 7 mills.

The recommendation came from a should be pursued and, if so, what would go into the bond.

After nine weeks of meetings, the subcommittee came to consensus of $22.8 million in projects. Some of the most costly projects include the removal and abatement of asbestos from the  ($5.2 million), mechanical upgrades to the high school and middle school ($5.4 million), remodeling the high school auditorium and stage ($1.25 million), kitchen construction in and ($1 million) and technological upgrades throughout the district ($3.3 million).

These projects make up about $16 million of the bond. All of the projects were considered infrastructure improvements.

Process, debate, agreement

"As with any process, with any big project, it can sometimes get loud, it gets feelings out, but in the end (the subcommittee) voted for something they understand and felt good about and it wasn't a rubber stamp," . "We feel we were respectful to the taxpayers and got things down to what the district really needed."

The subcommittee had about .

Though the entire committee supported the final projects recommended to the Board of Education, there was debate among the members when determining what is or isn't "mission critical" for the district.

"We were dedicated to remove any fluff that was presented to us but … there wasn't any fluff there," Schusterbauer said. "But we did manage to get it less fluffy."

Questions came up about whether playgrounds were more important than a kitchen in Roosevelt or University High School or if the auditorium upgrades were more important than asbestos removal. In the end, however, all of those items, in some capacity, are a part of the $22.8 million bond proposal.

Items that didn't make it include gym wall pads, fencing replacements, various technological upgrades and various adjustments to carpet replacement and asphalt and concrete walk replacements.

$13 million or less

There was also a portion of the subcommittee that wanted to get the amount of the bond down to $13 million.

Why $13 million? Well, the reason is complicated.

First, due to declining property values, the bonding capacity of the district was compromised. Each May, property valuations are released that show a city's growth percentage compared to the year prior. A school's bonding capacity is based on the five-year average of those growth percentages.

So, in February next year, before growth values are released for 2012 in May, the maximum amount the district could receive in a bond would be about $24 million. In May, when the valuations are updated, a 4.91 growth percentage from 2007 will be replaced by a projected decline of -6 percent, according to the district's financial advisors Stauder-Barch. The projected decline in valuation will drop the five-year growth average from -1.86 to -4.05 percent, thus dropping the district's maximum bonding capacity by about $11 million.

Second, the reason a portion of the subcommittee wanted to get it down to $13 million and have a May vote was so the bond wouldn't have to go on the same date as the tentative Republican primary.

There is concern within the subcommittee that going in February, during the Republican primary, against an electorate that appears to be anti-government spending and anti-tax, will be inclined to vote against a school bond.

. The statistics and the research he did basically said a vote going against a Republican primary would an uphill battle.

"There is a chance that we aren't gonna get it in February," he said last week. 

Yet, Ferndale's Superintendent Gary Meier disagrees and has countered the Republican primary argument with saying that the need to upgrade the schools'  infrastructure will outweigh any political rhetoric come voting time.

It was clear last week, however, that there would be no way for the subcommittee to get the size of the bond down to $13 million. "We don't have the consensus in the room to get to 13 (million dollars); we can probably stop trying to get to 13," Schusterbauer said during Wednesday's subcommittee meeting.

Minority Report

All the members of the subcommittee supported the process in which the projects were determined. However, there was a question of why the subcommittee was put in the place of having to decide on a February and a May vote with an $11 million difference.

A minority report, signed by tri-chair Jim O'Donnell, tri-chair Marie Haener-Patti, Deegan-Krause and Walt Herzig and read aloud to the subcommittee on Thursday and presented to the Operations Committee before the recommendation on Monday night, takes issue with the February voting date.

"Our position within this subcommittee is that the deck is stacked heavily against voter approval in February, and certainly of a larger amount of debt rather than a smaller amount," the report stated. "We believe that this reflects the preponderance of evidence, allied with common sense: in the context of an organized local anti-tax, anti-debt opposition, a bond election held on the date of the Republican Presidential primary faces long odds."

The report went on to state the process had highlighted possible deficiencies in district planning. "We hope that through better financial planning and analysis going forward, we can both choose more favorable election dates and have a more compelling written case for proposed projects when they are presented to the board, committees, and voters in the future," it stated.

The report also requested a discussion take place regarding planning for such an issue in the future. A meeting, Meier said Monday night that he and the district look forward to.

Regardless of the issues of voting date, it was clear that the four who were part of this report will support the projects in the bond. "All that said, we will support the bond effort by voting for it on Feb. 28 -- so if the Board decides to go forward, an elections committee can mark us down in the "yes" column as they get started," it stated.

At Monday's meeting, Meier went on to address the report presented as part of the subcommittee recommendation.

"All that aside, the bottom line for me is that these four individuals clearly want what is best for this school system," he said. "Notwithstanding whatever difference we had with this process, I'm confident in the community, the administration and this board that we'll pull together and come together and do what is best for the children of this district."

At this point, the subcommittee's job has been completed. A campaign committee will form made up of residents, parents, administrators, and faculty, independent of the subcommittee and the district, to promote and campaign for the school bond. Additionally, the board approved a bond oversight committee oversee bond expenditures in the event that the bond passes. Details on how, who and when these two committees will form are unavailable at this time.

Stay tuned to Ferndale Patch as we follow the school bond process. Look for a detail of the bond projects in the $22.8 million bond in an upcoming issue.

Greg Pawlica August 16, 2011 at 07:50 PM
It is my understanding that a current bond is set to expire within the next year. Is this true? If so, how much is the difference between the current bond and the one voters are being asked to support in February. I think knowing this information would be important to voters and to those who are in support of the schools.
T. Scott Galloway August 16, 2011 at 08:50 PM
Any estimates on the number of Ferndale residents who are both likely to vote in a Republican primary and have children who attend Ferndale schools?
Terry Parris Jr. August 16, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Scott: This is from one of our previous stories (numbers were presented by Kevin Deegan-Krause): 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.
Terry Parris Jr. August 16, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Greg: If approved in February, the bond would be extended. It would be 7 mills, just as it is now. It is an extension of a 7 mill bond.
Terry Parris Jr. August 17, 2011 at 01:24 PM
Also: According to the district: The 2004 bond is set to expire in 2023 - 12 years from now. This 2012 bond request, if voted on, would extend at the same rate, 7 mills, to 2033 -- 22 years from now.
T. Scott Galloway August 17, 2011 at 01:39 PM
My assumption Terry is that the number of likely Republican primary voters in Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, Oak Park and Royal Oak Township who have children attending Ferndale Public Schools is a very small number. My guess would be perhaps no more than a couple hundred and that may be high. Without a strong majority of likely February 2012 voters personally invested in our school district I don't understand how the millage gets to 51%. I hope that I'm wrong for the sake of the school district.
Greg Pawlica August 17, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Scott, I think most Dems are interested in seeing Obama on the Democratic ticket. Therefore I intend to vote in February...I see no reason why I can't infulence the Republican nominee AND vote for the school millage. I hope other Dems do the same thing...if you know what I mean.
Mark Blackwell August 17, 2011 at 04:06 PM
As far as I'm concerned, if there is no primary challenge to Barack Obama, there is no democrat on the ticket. All this president has managed to do is dutifully rifle through mounds and mounds of republican policy, with an occasional progressive bone thrown out in the yard. This president is beholden to industry, and just does a real good dance when he's live, that's all. He will not get my vote. And if there's no democrat on the ticket then it's not my fault we don't get a democratic president in 2012. So anyone winding up that "thanks for electing republicans" softball, save it. I've heard it. And it doesn't fly with me.
T. Scott Galloway August 17, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong Greg - but was your post a reminiscence of the 2000 Republican primary in which John McCain upset George Bush thanks to the participation of crossover voters in the GOP primary?
Michelle Foster August 17, 2011 at 07:09 PM
The fact of the matter is that this bond is going to the ballot to insure that our children have a safe and dynamic environment to learn in. It will pay for necessary improvements such as asbestos removal, mechanical and technology upgrades. The improvements must be seen as an investment in our community. I'm sick of the republican vs democrat rhetoric. If you believe that the future of our community is a worthwhile investment, vote yes for the school bond, regardless of your political beliefs.
Ardy August 17, 2011 at 09:16 PM
I can be about as Liberal as they come but I'm a no right now on this ballot issue. I am not convinced that the District has been dutiful stewards of our money in the past. I've looked over that list and I know for a fact, based upon my many years in educational facilities management, that a lot of the current issues could have been prevented through prudent maintenance. When times get a little tough, Maintenance is the first cut before anything else; even when times are "good", Maintenance gets/got cut by Administration. This is what happens when accountants run a District and not Educators. This District is not alone in this; this is common practice throughout the area.
Amy Butters August 18, 2011 at 02:17 PM
I suspect that Democrats and Republicans alike believe in a strong school district. However, the question is how to pay for it? My sense is that the Republican Party does not generally favor government placing financial burdens on citizens. Will the many Republican voters going to the polls to choose a presidential candidate be inclined to approve a bond extension? It's unfortunate that party politics are creeping into this school election. Voters who support the schools will need to turn out in high numbers to ensure that our district can have the financial support it needs. If any community can do it, Ferndale can, but it will be an uphill battle.
Ardy August 18, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Republicans will come out in droves (with the Tea Bags in their hats) and defeat this thing. Mr. House's TPer crew was just at his house (pun!) last Saturday planning their attack. This will be the one vote that they stand to win, and trust me, if they do they will be shouting it from every peak in this Great City. It will be their only victory; but they'll jamb it down everyone's throats like they won a huge battle or something.

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