November 14, 2013While not yet at full consensus, the majority of Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education members voiced a willingness to take a multi-series, $50 million technology bond to public vote in February following an in-depth, four-hour discussion of a technology pre-bond planning report.
"As a board, we can't get any closer than where we are (Monday)," said Lois Valente, board secretary. "We just all have very strong feelings and opinions about (the bond and dollar amount), and so it's time to let the voters tell us whether or not they want to foot the bill."
A majority agreement is a marked improvement from the August meeting, when a $48-million bond proposal failed on a 3-3 vote, which led to administration seeking requests for proposals from a third-party consultant for a more detailed projection and planning report.
That third-party consultant, the joint group of Ehresman Associates, Inc.; Wright & Hunter; and Peter Basso Associates Inc., presented its report and recommendations Monday at the board's meeting of a whole.
The 61-page document details the group's findings and projected budgets for each improved or upgraded item in the following essential areas: safety and security systems, infrastructure and technology devices, and energy efficiency.
Though, from Monday's discussion, it's likely the board will seek energy improvements, which equaled $10,343,000, through its general or sinking funds, whenever it's able, rather than the technology bond.
Unless, several board members said, return on investment figures, currently unknown, justify its inclusion in the bond.
"The way money is now, I don't see (energy upgrades) as a direct educational benefit," said Cindy Pangborn, board trustee. "This, I think, can be done somewhere else because I don't want it to detract from the infrastructure and the things we so desperately need."
Infrastructure has been of great concern to district administration, which started voicing the dire need for improvements during a technology report last February. Much of the district's equipment is aging — 85 percent of the computers at the elementary level are older than the students using it — and out of warranty and, its network is at or exceeding capacity.
According to the planning report, cost for creating a private fiber network between Parcells Middle School's district data center and each building; upgrading network hardware and operating software, cables and uninterruptable power supplies; new wireless access points in all buildings; natural gas generators at each building; and main distribution frame room cooling, as needed, totaled $16,064,000, the second largest expenditure.
Technology device upgrades ($28,557,000) are most costly.
The joint group's recommendations in both areas projected $6,841,340 more than the original bond's projections.
The difference in numbers, and overall $50 million bond projection, has some on the board fearing community rejection.
"While I see merit in all the (infrastructure and computer) pieces, I'm not sure that if we put a $50 million proposal out there, that we'd be successful," trustee Tom Jakubiec said, before suggesting two bond proposals for the February ballot, one focused on infrastructure and other "must-haves" and the other on "above-and-beyond" items, like the telephone system upgrade and media center improvements.
Pangborn also favored separate bond proposals. The others preferred one proposal.
"We've hired these consultants at the committee's request," said Dan Roeske, board vice president. "They've done a great job putting this project together, and it's their recommendation that we're talking about (Monday). I think the voters will recognize the importance and vote for one bond as opposed to separate ones."
A $50-million bond proposal keeps the district near its desired 2.3-mill rate, which is about an additional $350 per year on a house with a taxable value of $150,000.
Public comments afterward all favored the discussion and the prospect of a $50-million bond issued in multiple series.
"I just think it's imperative that you push forward with the direction you're going in," said Harry Kurtz. "I think if you all get behind this, if you can have that conviction, (the public) will follow you. I think they're going to trust your judgment.
"I urge you to try to keep it simple. You'll send the wrong message, in my opinion, if you try and split this up. But if you have the courage of your convictions, I think the community will stand by you."
"When you first brought the proposal of $48 million, I was really shocked by the cost, and I wrote some letters about it," said Andrew Dervan. "But tonight ... I'm really in support of it ... We have to go forward and support this technology bond because this is a great school system, and it needs to keep progressing."