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Farmington, Farmington Hills

September 4, 2013

FPS approves two-part $186.2M bond proposal for November

New proposal comes just under three weeks after voters reject previous one

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Public Schools Board of Education trustees voted 6-0 to place a $186.2 million redesigned bond proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot, after voters denied the original $222 million proposal in August by nearly 1,000 votes.

During a special Aug. 26 meeting at North Farmington High School, 32900 W. 13 Mile Road, trustees listened to numerous opinions from attendees regarding the bond proposal before voting. Some residents asked the board to rethink placing the bond proposal on the November ballot, while others commended the board for updating the bond proposal.

Trustee Priscilla L. Brouillette was not in attendance, although she supported the decision to place the proposal on the ballot for the November election, according to a statement she sent to board President Howard I. Wallach, which he read aloud. 

The $186.2 million redesigned bond proposal is 16 percent less than the original proposal. According to a published report, Proposal 1 would cost the owner of a $200,000 home with a $100,000 taxable value $132 per year; Proposal 2 would cost the same homeowner $45 annually, for a combined $177 per year for 25 years.

According to district documents, the current market is demanding a higher interest rate to sell bonds because of the improving housing and labor markets, and there is uncertainty in tax-exempt bonds because of Detroit’s pending bankruptcy. Since the bond rates have changed and increased, the two-part bond proposal's annual millage rates are similar to the former bond proposal's rates.

The two-part proposal is broken up into Proposal 1: safety, infrastructure and technology at $154.6 million; and Proposal 2: arts, athletics and technology replacements at $31.6 million.

Proposal 1 is an estimated 1.52-mill annual tax increase; Proposal 2 is an estimated 0.65-mill annual tax increase. If the two-part proposal passes in November, the estimated millages will be levied in 2014.

Trustee George E. Gurrola said during the meeting that Proposal 2 should not be diminished in any way.

“Arts and athletics (are) two of the things some of the most highest performing kids are involved in,” Gurrola said. “We as a district should serve them, too.”

Voters in the Farmington Public Schools district denied the $222 million bond request 8,043 votes to 7,084 during the Aug. 6 special election. The proposal would have brought about a 1.44-mill annual tax increase, a cost to average homeowners of approximately $7-$9 per month — or, if going by the estimated monthly average, $84-$108 per year for 25 years. District officials said they needed the money for upgrades to infrastructure, security, technology and learning environments.

The August election is estimated to have cost the district between $65,000 and $85,000. 

Executive Director of Pre K-12 Instructional Support Services Jon Manier said the district’s Facilities Forward Steering Committee and the Capital Finance Planning Task Team received feedback from community members about why the original bond failed. He said the groups discovered that people would like to support a bond of less than $222 million, and focus on the most critical, urgent needs in the district, among other factors.

“The importance of the whole (bond proposal) was lost in details,” he said. “We believe we have incorporated much of the feedback … into the proposals. We take very seriously our responsibility of educating our students.”

Manier said Proposal 1 must pass before Proposal 2 can pass.

Diane Bauman, FPS director of school/community relations, said Proposal 2 cannot pass alone because the more-needed items are on Proposal 1.

“The board will not move forward if Proposal 1 does not pass,” she said.

The more than two-hour meeting covered feedback from the August election, a presentation of the redesigned proposal, and funding for the redesigned proposals recommend by the Farmington Forward Capital Finance Planning Task Team.

District volunteer and bond proposal supporter Gaby Adler was one of many who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.

“I’m in the schools. I see things from day to day,” she said after the meeting. “And these things really do need to get done, as far as improvements and things. To me, it is logical (to pass the proposals).”

Former district parent Ed Cleland said he supports the district, but he wants to see bond proposal facts and figures.

“My concern is this: I think that there hasn’t been enough detail, as so many people have said,” he said during the meeting. “I don’t think that all of these people want to vote against anything; I think they want to vote for something. But I think they want to vote for the right thing. The process doesn’t feel good to me.”

He said that he hopes he will feel comfortable about the numbers soon enough.

Some residents said they felt the district was not listening to them closely enough when the original bond was rejected, while other attendees said they wanted the district to wait a year, or tweak the new bond proposal more.

District parent Angie Smith said after the meeting that she was a little disappointed by the school board’s decision to put the new bond proposal on the November ballot.

She said she and others who voted down the August bond proposal attended a meeting with Superintendent Sue Zurvalec and other district officials Aug. 19 to discuss why they voted the way they did.

She said the issue of some residents not trusting the school board and administrators came up.

“But it takes more than August to November to regain that trust,” she said. “People cannot afford this (bond) anymore. With us not affording it, listen to what the people are saying and try to build that trust back up.”

Zurvalec addressed several issues discussed after the public comment portion, which included teachers’ salaries going up 24 percent.

“Teachers’ salaries have not gone up 24 percent; I want to make it really clear,” she said. “Our people have sacrificed enormously. Every one of our staff have not had a raise in more than six years — I think it is really important that you understand that.”

She added that the district has never claimed that the bond proposal will improve test scores.

“There are some studies that show a correlation between the environment that people work and learn in that has an effect on learning,” she said. “(We) never tried to make any claims beyond that.”

Director of Facilities Management John Riebe addressed perceptions of a lack of transparency.

“There is a half-inch book with all the detail that was on the (www.farmington.k12.mi.us) website,” he said. “It gives you every detail, every dollar amount for every school in regards to infrastructure updates and summary sheets.”

After comments from trustees supporting the bond, Trustee Frank L. Reid echoed their sentiments.

“I very much share my colleagues’ sense of urgency in the need to get on with all these fixes,” he said.

The school district covers Farmington and Farmington Hills, and a portion of West Bloomfield.

For more information, go to http://www.farmington.k12.mi.us/ or call (248) 489-3349.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.