District Voters React To Billion-Dollar Bond Proposal From Ann Arbor Public Schools

Oct 31, 2019

Ann Arbor Public Schools' billion dollar bond proposal is getting mixed reactions from local voters.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan spoke with voters and has their thoughts on the issue. 

In an effort to convince voters to approve the latest Ann Arbor Public Schools bond proposal, the district has hosted dozens of community meetings over the last couple of months to provide details on the project.  District Superintendent Jeanice Swift led the discussion at one held at the Ann Arbor District Library’s Westgate Branch.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift: We’re at that natural chapter where our prior bond has paid its last revenue.  We have 34 buildings, average age is 63 years old.  So this billion dollar bond, 1.65 mill increase is for the coming 30 years.  So it’s a 30-year bond, about a 20-year construction window.

The bond would help build two new schools, make structural improvements to others, and address issues such as safety and upgrading the district’s school bus fleet.  Homeowners with an average taxable value of $138,000 would see an annual increase of about $228.  Voter Sheila Rice attended the community meeting at Westgate. 

Sheila Rice: I oppose this proposal.  I think that there are some valid points in them, but, as I said, I have way too much trouble with a billion dollars and over 30 years--just too many changes that could take place during that period of time.

During the first six years of the construction window, air conditioning, LED lighting, and new kitchens would be added to schools.  Voter Melody McCormick Randall also attended the meeting at Westgate.

Melody McCormick Randall: I’m a little suspicious that things that would be nice, but the average homeowner might not put in their own homes, might go on the desirable list to get done.  I’d like for my money to be used judiciously, where it’s truly needed and I wasn’t fully convinced that there are mechanisms to make sure that happens.

"I have not decided yet."

Parent Jordan Else took lots of notes during the meeting at Westgate.  Her daughter is a graduate of Pioneer High School, and her son will start at Lawton Elementary next year. 

Jordan Else: My teacher friends are very critical of this and have noted that the teachers' union is not really on board with it, and I’m concerned about that.  But I do see the need, and I do see the schools.  And I’m in them often through sporting events and other activities with my son.  So I have a great deal of concern.  But those two things, I’m really having a hard time balancing how can I support both the schools and the teachers with this one?

The Ann Arbor Education Association, or teachers union, has decided they will remain neutral when it comes to the billion dollar bond proposal.  Fred Klein is president of the union.

Fred Klein: We’re not opposing it, we’re not supporting it, and that’s where we are right now.  I know many teachers do support it and some don’t support it.  I think that our teachers know that our buildings do need the critical infrastructure repairs and updating, but teachers have made sacrifices for this district for a number of years, at least the last twelve.  Including many pay freezes, concessions and teachers are feeling that we want to attract and retain the best teachers here in Ann Arbor and we do that by prioritizing teachers as part of the budgeting process.  So that’s why we’re taking that position to be neutral.

Voters I spoke with at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market had a more positive view of the proposal.  Donna Estabrook already voted yes for the proposal through an absentee ballot.

Donna Estabrook: We’re going to have old boilers, old buildings that are crumbling, so we need to fix them.

Christina Matrusic took a quick break from buying produce to talk about why she supports school bonds.  She doesn’t work for Ann Arbor Public Schools but is a teacher.

Christina Matrusic: If there are things that are for safety and for updating furniture, it always helps if you could build a classroom community and school culture that is positive.  That’s always going to help with student outcome.

Ann Arbor Public Schools has been informing voters that Michigan is one of 12 states that doesn’t provide school districts with funds for capital infrastructure projects.  This is one of the reasons why voter Darren Miller plans to vote yes for the proposal.

Darren Miller: The education of our children is of the most importance in our society.  I look at where we are today, and I think that if we had a better education system, we might have a more informed populous when it comes to things like voting and government in general in this country.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu