Survey says bond support high, but trustee not convinced

Of the nearly 1,400 people responding to Clarkston school’s bond proposal survey, more than 90 percent support at least part of the plan.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story, said school board Trustee Craig Hamilton.
“A lot of that is how you word the question,” Hamilton said. “‘Do you support your kids being safe?’ How do you say no to that? Do you like sunshine and puppy dogs? No? Well, what kind of person are you? And that’s how a lot of these questions were.”
Brad Hemmes of GMB Architecture & Engineering said the questions were not “leading in any sort of way.”
“We tried to be as direct and straightforward in the questions of this survey, just as we’ve tried to be direct and straightforward in all the information that we’ve developed and gathered up to date,” Hemmes said. “I’m a strong believer in ‘don’t ask the question, unless you really want the answer.’”
The survey asked 10 questions about district “critical needs”:
• Do you support a secure building entry at all schools, ensuring a warm and secure lobby for our families, while limiting access to our students and staff?
• Do you support site improvements in order to address pedestrian and vehicle traffic challenges in order to create safer environments for our students as they travel to and from our facilities and enhance traffic separation and flow?
• Do you support additional safety and security enhancements such as security cameras, playground safety improvements and classroom door hardware replacements?
• Do you support heating, cooling and electrical systems improvements in order to replace aged systems and improve indoor air quality and building operating efficiency?
• Do you support replacing aged single pane windows, doors and roofs where needed?
• Do you support renovations to our classrooms and learning spaces to enhance instruction and student learning?
• Do you support renovations to our playgrounds and playfields to enhance safety and usability?
• Do you support renovations to district outdoor athletic fields and facilities to support our academic and athletic programs for our physical education, athletic and band programs?
• Do you support the replacement of outdated computers and tablets to support the needs of our curriculum?
• Do you support the upgrading of technology infrastructure in order to support additional educational devices and building WIFI?
More than 90 percent of respondents said they support safety and security enhancements, mechanical and electrical system upgrades, site improvements, classroom and playground renovations and technology/infrastructure.
Support for renovations to athletic fields and facilities to support academic and athletic programs for our physical education, athletic and band programs received the lowest score, with 67 percent somewhat or strongly in favor of, which Hemmes said is “still a very high number.”
Of the 1,400 people responding to the survey, 92 percent have children attending Clarkston Schools. The survey also yielded responses from parents with children in every school from Early Childhood up to both Clarkston and Renaissance high schools.
“I was very encouraged by both the number of respondents that we had as well as the level of support that you’re getting from your community at this point in time,” Hemmes said.
The survey also asked if the community “would support a zero tax rate increase bond proposal,” which came back with a 86 percent “yes,” 2 percent “no” and 12 percent “unsure.” To the question if the public “would support a school bond proposal with a tax rate increase ,” the survey showed 43 percent “yes,” 24 percent “no” and 33 percent “unsure.”
Hamilton pointed to public comments written at the end of the survey. There are a handful of “positive encouraging comments compared to a plethora of negative ones,” he said.
“(If you asked) ‘do you support extending debt for your children for 30 years?’ Probably a lot of people aren’t going to say ‘yes,’” he said. “You guys write a lot of surveys and you can word questions to get the results that you want. I’m not saying that it’s intentional but when I look at how some of the questions are, it’s hard to not say that I support that – so, is it really encompassing of how the district feels? I think the comments (at the end) did a better job of (portraying) that.”
Positive feedback included, “If the proposed expenditures were clearly defined and estimated costs seemed appropriate, I would support a slight tax increase. I would not support an outrageous increase for sketchily outlined expenditures as was proposed a couple of years ago.”
“We are so far behind with technology and athletic facilities. Along with heating/cooling for older buildings, these are all priorities. Glad you are tackling them finally.”
“I think it is imperative these changes be made so that our children thrive to become great adults;” “I especially am in support of technology updates!! We want our students to be able to be competitive with surrounding districts.”
Negative comments included: “The community EXPECTS maintenance. These questions are clearly one sided because who would say ‘NO I want the boiler to fail?’ The problem is the school has been spending but appears to be failing to put enough money into maintenance. Also why does the school want to strap the community with more interest when they could use sinking funds. In 2012 the school wasted 30K on a bond vote instead of waiting until November. Here we go again, waste another 30K or more on a special vote. But when the school can use community money in order to cash in on millions, in a disgusting way it makes some sense;”
“I do NOT support a bond extension. The district needs to build up savings for future “rainy days” and not always try to find a way to spend money. Of course if there are serious facility repairs required, they should be done, but most of the facilities and equipment I have seen are in very good condition and require no improvements or upgrades at this time. I also do not believe we need cameras added all over school properties;”
“I think you have other issues to fix, beginning with staff and common core math implementation. Also the bullying issues, drugs and overall environment in the buildings. I expect more from my community and tax dollars!”
Board Treasurer Kelli Horst said the question about supporting the bond with no tax increase was the “most informative.”
“We very directly ask about potential support for what would be ultimately a decision about how we fund these needs if we choose to attempt to do so,” Horst said. “I think you see very clearly when you introduce the idea of increasing taxes, clear support drops in half. So to me this was probably the most direct indication of support moving forward in what we might choose to do.”
The bond proposal would collect $75,980,000 to be spent over five years on phase one of a long-term Master Plan.
If the bond issue is approved, the current millage rate of seven mills would stay the same, extending the term of the district’s current bonds. The current bond is set to expire in 2029; support of the new proposal would extend the payoff to 2045.
The school board may vote on scheduling the bond proposal election at its May 9 meeting. Additional information is available on the district’s website at www.clarkston.k12.mi.us.