January 30, 2014On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Grosse Pointe Public School System will ask voters to approve a $50 million bond to finance technology improvements for the district's 8,500 students.
Included in the bond proposal are funds for infrastructure, equipment and security updates.
According to district administrators, updates and improvements to existing computers and infrastructure can't be done with the district's current general budget. Acting on the recommendations of several consultants, the district opted to ask residents to approve a 10-year bond to fund the projects.
The bond, if approved, will cost a homeowner with a house valued at $200,000 and a $100,000 taxable value $228 per year.
And that, according to the opposition group, Residents for Responsible Spending, is not in the best interests of either taxpayers or students.
"Voters should reject the $50,280,000 bond proposal and demand that the GPPSS develop a moderate and responsible technology plan which meets the needs of our students, prepares them for the future, and is affordable for our community," the group posted to its website.
Grosse Pointe Park resident Mickey Montagne Shield, treasurer for RRS, believes the spending called for in the bond is irresponsible.
"People in this community are generous and we want to support our children and schools," she said. "Some will feel that a 'no' vote is a vote against our teachers, students and technology, but that's not what a 'no' vote means. It is a request to the school board to provide us with a responsible spending plan."
According to Brendan Walsh, a former school board member and a member of RRS, one of the main sticking points in the bond is a $17 million allocation for personal computing devices and support, such as a tablet or laptop, for every student.
"The district does not appear to have a plan for the use of these devices," he said. "The bond allocates $1,200 per device, and to give out 8,500 iPads without a plan just doesn't make sense."
While the group does not oppose replacing or upgrading shared devices, such as desktop computers in classrooms and school computer labs, it feels that individual devices should be supplied by parents. For those students unable to afford such devices, district money should be set aside to assist them.
The group also questions the nearly $8 million designated in the bond for network infrastructure and servers. While it recognizes the need for central servers throughout the district, it questions why the district is not moving to commercial cloud services.
"Businesses are moving to cloud services and off-site storage," Walsh said. "Why would we handcuff ourselves by buying equipment that will soon be outdated?"
Cindy Pangborn, the lone school board member who voted against the district going for the bond, also questioned why the district did not fully investigate leasing equipment.
"I don't believe we ever received a full accounting of the cost of leasing equipment and cloud storage," she said. "It's the board's responsibility to present the best work we can to the community, but I believe this is going to hold the community hostage."
Pangborn and other members of RRS believe that the upgrades the district needs could be accomplished for $10 million, not $50 million, and believes that the language of the bond proposal allows for possible abuse.
"The bond allows for remodeling and refurnishing classrooms," she said. "Does that mean we will be carpeting and painting and replacing light fixtures with bond money? Those are projects that should come from the general fund."
The group had hoped to present its case against the bond at a recent forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Grosse Pointe, which featured representatives of the school district, including superintendent Tom Harwood, chief financial officer Chris Fenton and Grosse Pointe North teacher and the Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud.
"We had requested a seat at the table that night, but our request was denied," Shield said. "We felt it did the community a disservice by not presenting both sides."
Information on the technology bond is posted on the school district's website, gpschools.org. A citizens group formed in support of the bond, Tech Yes, also has a website, gptechyes.org. Information from Residents for Responsible Spending can be found on its website, gpresponsiblespending.com/