February 06, 2014By Joe Warner
Superintendent Tom Harwood has heard the opposition to the bond proposal on the Feb. 25 ballot, but still believes it's right for the school district and community.
"This is what's best for our schools," Harwood said in an interview at the Grosse Pointe News. "This would make us competitive again."
Harwood said the Grosse Pointe Public School System has lost ground on other top schools over the years. "We've been keeping up with curriculum and small class sizes. I'm confident this is something that needs to pass to help us in other areas."
Other areas include security and computer technology and infrastructure updates, all part of a bond question seeking $50.2 million over 10 years. If approved, the bond would cost the owner of a $200,000 house with a $100,000 taxable value $228 in additional taxes each year.
Opposition to the proposal has been vocal through a group called Residents for Responsible Spending. The main charge is the district is asking for more than what's needed.
Not so, says Harwood.
"These are items we need to accomplish," he said. "We worked hard over the summer to properly prepare the information and to make the decisions about this bond issue."
When asked about the timing of the election - with it Feb. 25 instead of last November - Harwood said there wasn't time to assess what was needed before election deadlines passed.
"Some of the board members didn't feel comfortable approving that particular item being placed on the November ballot," Harwood said. "We've worked hard to communicate every step of the process. With parents, the community, municipalities. We've worked to get the word out about why this bond proposal is needed."
Harwood said maintaining small class sizes, offering elementary art and AP classes have contributed to the delay in some needed technology upgrades.
"We offer some great programs and services with staffing in place," Harwood said. "The majority of our staff members not only work here, but live here as well. They care about the students and don't want us to fall behind. We're always compared to Birmingham of Bloomfield and we're expected to compete. We have some needs to be addressed."
Among the upgrades in the bond proposal, a safety and security component is listed.
"Part of the changes we need to make are mandated," Harwood said. "Security, including lighting upgrades, computer based key fabs and sensors to tell us when doors or windows are propped open all go to the security of protecting our valuable resource, the students, staff and teachers in our buildings. We also lack cameras to help give us a view of our properties."
Harwood said security has always been an issue and the local chiefs of public safety have been involved developing a plan to secure the schools.
On the technology side, the infrastructure of the system fails on a daily basis, Harwood said. It's outdated and the Cloud technology doesn't allow for the security or the capacity to handle thousands of students accessing information at the same time.
"The average age of our computers is nine years," Harwood said. "Over half of the computers in our system are older than the oldest child in our elementary schools. We need to close the digital gap and provide a foundation for our students to be successful. This addresses that need for the life of the bonds.
Harwood said he understands there is always opposition to a commitment, but stresses Grosse Pointe has always backed the high expectations for their schools with support of their needs.
"It's an amazing community," he said. "There are so many people connected with what we do in our schools. They volunteer, interact, attend events and they give us input to make sure what they have in their school district is valuable. That's our goal. I feel this community has alwyas been connected to the needs of the children.
"We have tremendous support from staff and teachers, from foundations and the PTOs. There needs to be a return on the investment and there is with this proposal."
When asked the next step if the bond proposal fails in less than three weeks, Harwood said, "We will have to take a difficult look at cutting some significant costs to do what we need to do here.
"We will do our best to our ability to implement the changes we need to make, but there will be real choices we have to make. Real tough choices."
More information is available at gpschools.org. Next week, we talk to more residents for and against the proposal. Letters to the editor start on page 8A.
The series of questions and answers continues next week.