(Note: This editorial was written by Tran Longmoore, editor of The Saline Post)
Voters in the Saline Area Schools district are considering a 20-year, $67.5 million bond proposal that will add 1 mill to their property tax bills.
It’s time to vote “yes.”
During the recession Saline Area Schools, not unlike many Saline families, put off maintenance and infrastructure needs. There wasn’t much choice.
In Michigan, school districts fund classroom operations with state foundation grants – grants that shrank due to state budget cuts and political shenanigans. Even when state funding rose, many of the gains were swallowed whole by state-mandated increases in retirement contributions. Saline, like most districts, can’t afford to spend many general fund dollars on infrastructure and construction. Instead, the district relies upon sinking fund millage dollars for infrastructure work. But the state limits how districts can spend the funds.
As a result, the district put off work. Problems got patches instead of solutions.
Meanwhile, the old schools got older and even the "new" schools, built with 2000 bond dollars, showed signs of aging.
Saline Area Schools leaders planned this bond issue for years. First the district consulted with the public and school community to develop a strategic framework. Goal five of the frame work states the district shall establish “short-term financial stability and long-term fiscal solvency.” The late David Holden, former President of the Board of Education, was fond of saying goal five “made all the others possible.” Holden campaigned against Saline’s bond proposals in 2010 and 2011. When he was elected to the board in 2011, it was on a promise to bring fiscal discipline to the district. He said many times he could not ask the public to support a bond proposal, however necessary, until the district demonstrated responsibility with its tax dollars.
Over the last few years the district won hard sacrifices from its unionized employees. The district trimmed the fat and sold excess buildings. Despite many setbacks, including harsh, expensive winters and tough budgets handed down from Lansing politicians, the district is on sturdier ground. David Holden worked to set the table for this bond proposal until his final days.
The district is selling this proposal as something that will ensure Saline’s students are “safe, warm and dry.” There are $20 million for infrastructure – including new roofs, reconfigured parking lots and entrances, plumbing upgrades and more. There are $13 million for energy – with an emphasis on investments that pay back. There are $8.4 million in safety and security upgrades, including more secure entrances to the schools. The district plans to spend $3 million to upgrade an ancient bus fleet.
Then there’s technology. District leaders and many educators are excited about “Next Generation Classrooms,” which have sprouted around the district in pilot programs. Superintendent Scot Graden said this bond issue will take Next Generation Classrooms to scale. There are more than $10 million in this bond issue for technology. Beyond powerful computers and classroom technology, the district is taking steps build a robust, reliable network to power the classrooms. The district will continue to rely on students bringing devices from home. The district is also investing in securing sensitive student data.
There are legitimate concerns about investing 20-year bond money in technology that will be obsolete in 10 years. District leaders have met with state representatives to discuss this. While it would be nice to have a separate “pay-as-you-go” technology piece, it’s not feasible at the moment. Superintendent Graden said he believes tech millages are more effective at a county level.
Year after year, our public schools rank among the best in Michigan and best in the country. The community must invest to maintain our excellent schools so our children have the educational foundation they’ll need in a rapidly-changing economy. This is the fundamental goal of public education. The community must not shirk this responsibility.
The district has put a solid plan in front of the community – one that addresses basic needs of the district. Failure to pass this measure will result in deteriorating infrastructure, technological glitches that disrupt learning, and dollars spent outside the classroom – which could result in layoffs and larger class sizes.
Beyond education, there are other implications.
This community is defined by its school district. The attractiveness of the schools– academically, athletically and culturally – make Saline a magnet in one of Michigan’s most educated and economically dynamic counties. The strength of residential property values directly tie to the strength of Saline Area Schools. If your property value is of concern to you, then investment in the schools is financially prudent.
As the Saline Area Schools district goes, so goes the community.
District leaders and employees made hard choices for the progress of our schools. Now it’s time for the citizens to make ours for the advancement of our community.
Vote yes on the Saline Area Schools bond proposal to benefit our children and fortify our community.