Residents split on school bond

Residents split on school bond
Chris Fluegel comments on the school bond proposal. Photo by Trevor Keiser
Chris Fluegel comments on the school bond proposal. Photo by Trevor Keiser

BY TREVOR KEISER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

For Clarkston school district resident Allen Lowe, the school board’s decision to move forward with a $75 million “no millage increase” bond is frustrating.
“I’m disappointed to see here that a lot of us were right – for what you were asking for (in 2012), you needed about 10 times as much and now we’re getting to that number. But, once again, we’re being held hostage,” Lowe said at Monday night’s public hearing.
The public defeated a $20 million bond proposal in May 2012, which would have funded technology and structural needs.
“I think the reason it was defeated was the technology and all the unknowns were bad,” he said. “When that was voted down, I fully expected, if they were critical needs like roof leaking or something, there would have been a bond that November where the election would have been free. Yeah, I forgot to mention the school paid $30,000 to have a special vote that year.”
If the district came back with a $10 million dollar bond to “keep the lights on,” Lowe said people like him probably would have voted for it.
“(But) ‘we’re keeping the lights on’ is bundled with all the extras in technology,” he added. “What about sinking fund? Why does the community always have to be strapped with interest as oppose to offering us a sinking fund so there is no interest (and) our dollars will go directly into the school with no wasted money?”
Resident Phil Bertolini had a different take on the technology portion of the potential bond.
“You can’t lose sight of the future. It’s one thing to keep the status quo. It’s another thing to make sure we have a learning environment where our children will flourish,” he said. “The world is passing us by, technology has to be a part of the bond because that’s the world we live in. If we’re not teaching our kids the technology today, we’re wasting our time as educators.”
The board voted 5-2 at an April 11 special meeting to approve the preliminary bond qualification application
The vote allows the board to keep the option open to place a “no-increase” bond vote on the Aug. 2 election ballot.
Bertolini said he is a big supporter of Clarkston’s music program, and musical instruments have deteriorated over several years. He is happy to see the bond proposal includes proper storage facilities for band instruments at the high school, as well as instrument upgrades.
“We have stuff sitting out in the rain and in the cold and it’s getting ruined,” he said. “Musical instruments cannot handle that kind of temperature change so we need some sort of (proper) storage environment.”
Music and the arts are just as important as athletics, he said.
“I personally am a tuba player and I can tell you I’ve never seen (instruments like these). They look like trash cans with mouthpieces,” he said. “I hope this board looks favorably on that as deliberate the bond issue and what needs to be spent going further.”
Resident Chris Fluegel was also very impressed by the current laid out bond proposal.
“I really like the fact that it’s comprehensive bond vote,” he said. “The biggest most important fact is that it’s not going to be an increase.”
Fluegel noted he’s had two daughters in Clarkston Schools, one who graduated and one currently a sophomore. Both of them “reaped the benefit from past successes and decisions past boards have made.”
“We have to build on the excellent education that we have now and we can’t rest on our laurels. I’m in favor of the bond and in favor of the proposal. I hope the board votes unanimously to move forward with the bond,” he said. “I probably won’t reap the benefits, other than the fact I’ll continue to live in the community that is a destination city that has some of the best athletic facilities, has the best talent and has the best education system in the state.”
Next steps
The board has not approved the bond ballot date yet, according to Board Vice President Elizabeth Egan.
“The next step in the process is for the Board of Education to listen to our community and I would like to hear their voices sooner, rather than later,” Egan said.
“The board wants to keep all options open at this point in terms of upcoming election dates,” said Board President Steve Hyer. “If we decide August is the right time for our community, we still have that option open to us and if we decide a different option is the right one, we still have that open to us as well.”
Trustee Craig Hamilton and board Secretary Susan Boatman voted against keeping the August option open.
Hamilton said a November election would allow more residents to be heard at the voting booths.
“I’m not a big fan of the argument our residents are not smart enough to be able to grasp the concept to be able to vote on more than just five issues,” he said. “I think our residents are smart enough to be able to look at all the issues and care enough that they will take the time to look at local issues in addition to the presidential and other issues on the ticket.”
Boatman agreed.
“It is my belief that we get a more representative decision when we ask the community to vote in November,” she said. “I’m also concerned an August election may not allow sufficient time to educate voters on the details of the bond proposal.”
Citizens will have another chance for input on the needs assessment and bond proposal at the April 25 meeting. The board will deliberate and possibly approve a ballot proposal vote date on May 9.