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January 23, 2014
GROSSE POINTE — The Grosse Pointe Public School System is seeking support from residents for a $50 million bond to enhance technology and will put the question to voters Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The League of Women Voters Grosse Pointe held a forum Jan. 14 on the issue that allowed residents to question district officials as to the need for such a bond and how exactly the district will spend the $50 million over the 10 year life of the bond. District superintendent Tom Harwood, deputy superintendent for business and operations Chris Fenton and Grosse Pointe North science teacher and Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud represented the district.

If approved, a millage of 2.2839 mills would be levied. For a home with a market value of $200,000 and a taxable value of $100,000, the annual cost would be $228.

The bond would be used for "remodeling, equipping, furnishing, reequipping and refurnishing existing School District buildings, including security, media center, computer lab, classroom and technology infrastructure improvements; acquiring and installing instructional technology equipment; and associated site improvements."

In his opening remarks, Harwood said the district needs the bond in order to upgrade existing equipment and to comply with new legislation regarding school security.

"Over half of our computers are older than our fifth graders, and we can no longer upgrade them," he said.

As to the $5 million of the proposed bond designated for "Life Safety and Security," administrators pointed out a new law requires districts to upgrade school phone systems to comply with a state that requires the phone system to identify the location from where a call is being placed within a building.

Of the $5 million, $1.5 million will be spent on new entry systems for school buildings, $2.5 million for security cameras and lighting and $1 million on the new phone system.

With $17 million of the proposed bond earmarked for "computing devices," one of the first questions posed to the panel was whether providing elementary school students with individual computing devices like an iPad was necessary, as is proposed in the bond.

Describing it as an "investment in the community," Harwood said that education is at the forefront of everyone's mind when they are looking where to purchase a home. When housing values increase, it's because of schools. With more companies moving downtown and with Grosse Pointe being so close to downtown, families will be looking, choosing and comparing what districts have to offer."

Abud also noted that by providing each student with the same device, it will make it easier for teachers to use it for lessons. He described how he encouraged students in his science classes at North to "BYOD," or bring your own devices, and several brought their own laptops, tablets and smartphones.

"It was a great program, but not every student had one, and not all were good," he said, "It's not equitable, we have to provide equal access for all our students."

Initial plans call for tablet-type devices to be issued to elementary students, with laptops being issued to middle school and high school students, but a final determination has not been made.

Harwood said that feedback from recent district graduates indicted that Grosse Pointe alums were well-prepared for college, but were not as well-versed as their college classmates in online learning and presentations.

As to the question as to why a bond is needed to fund these projects, as opposed to using funds on hand, Fenton pointed out that the $2.5 million currently in the district's sinking fund has to be used to maintain buildings.

The timeline for the bond was also discussed. If approved in February, district officials acknowledged that it would take at least two months to secure funding, then up to 18 months to upgrade the district's infrastructure to accommodate the new devices and to train teachers. That puts the rollout at approximately January 2016. Infrastructure improvements comprise $15 million of the bond.

According to Harwood, teachers by and large support improving technology, and have cited problems with existing computers, including long start-up times, slow response times and outdated software. When questioned as to why the district doesn't consider leasing new equipment instead of buying, Fenton responded that the bond does not allow for leasing.

Fenton also noted the district will be going back to the voters to request renewal of the district's hold harmless millage and the district's sinking fund millage.

Information on the bond is available on the district's website, gpschools.org. A video of the entire forum is available for viewing on local educational access stations, including Comcast's Channel 20.

Editor's note: Letters to the editor regarding the bond proposal are welcome at jwarner@grossepointenews.com. Letters on the issue will be accepted until 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17. The author's signature and daytime number are required. Letters in this edition are found on page 6A.

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