February 25, 2014 at 7:00 am

Grosse Pointe district to seek alternatives after school bond defeat

Elizabeth Irwin votes Tuesday at Stevens T. Mason Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Woods. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Reacting to voters’ decisive rejection of a $50 million bond issue, the leader of the Grosse Pointe Public Schools said the district will look for a “different option” to upgrade classroom technology.

In an email sent to parents, Superintendent Thomas Harwood said the district wants feedback in a customer satisfaction survey, which will be online later this week, on how it can “find a solution our constituents can support.”

“We respect the election process and while disappointed that this was not approved, the results are clear that a different option is needed,” Harwood wrote. “It is important we recognize the ballot results don’t solve the technology problems identified.”

The $50 million bond issue, defeated 70 percent to 30 percent in Tuesday’s election, had sparked a fierce debate over technology needs and spending in one of the state’s most upscale districts.

The 10-year bond would have paid for a fiber optic network and new computers, laptops and tablets across the district and upgraded school security with modern telephones and camera systems.

District officials and supporters said the bond, which would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home with a taxable value of $100,000 about $229 a year in taxes, was not about technology alone, but about how technology would support instruction.

Critics said the district was asking for too much money for improvements that could quickly have become obsolete.

Harwood said the district’s administration “will review the options for financing technology improvements as we develop the 2014-15 budget and review the financial needs for the 2015-16 budget and beyond.”

He said the district will consider when to seek renewal of current hold harmless, non-Homestead and sinking fund millages that expire at the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Kathleen Elsey of Grosse Pointe Woods said she voted against the bond issue because the proposal was not “well thought out,” she said.

“It’s a lot of money for technology that maybe next year or the following year will be obsolete,” said Elsey, who doesn’t have children in the school system.

The Grosse Pointe proposal was alone to fail among funding questions in six Metro Detroit school districts and one local library millage on ballots across the region Tuesday.

Other school bond issues across the region received overwhelming support.

In Oakland County, voters in Clawson Public Schools approved extending the current tax rate to finance $9.9 million in building and security improvements over 20 years. With all five precincts reporting, 67 percent voted in favor of extending the tax.

Matt Kramer voted for the Clawson millage.

“The schools are really nice and the teachers are excellent, so that’s why you don’t mind supporting the schools,” said Kramer, whose daughter attends third grade in the district. “Plus, it’s a renewal, so it’s not like this is going to be an increase in taxes.”

In the West Bloomfield School District, 69 percent of voters approved renewing two millages: an 18-mill levy on non-homestead properties and a 5-mill levy on residential properties. The funds will account for 19 percent of the district’s general fund budget in 2015.

The Salem-South Lyon Library’s 0.497-millage request passed with 73 percent of the vote. The library’s current debt millage of 0.3575 expires in 2015.

Voters in northern Macomb County supported a millage renewal for the Anchor Bay school district. More than 71 percent of voters approved renewing an 18-mill tax that applies only to non-homestead properties. The district, which serves students in Macomb and St. Clair counties, relies on the millage for $4.1 million of its $52 million operating fund budget.

In Wayne County, voters in Wyandotte Public Schools renewed an 18-mill tax on non-homestead properties and a 1-mill Headlee override millage for non-homestead properties. The first proposal passed with 67 percent and the Headlee override passed with 66 percent voting in favor.

With all 10 precincts reporting in Westwood Community Schools, which serves parts of Dearborn Heights, Dearborn and Inkster, 56 percent of voters said yes to renewing an 18-mill levy on non-homestead properties.


Allison Baker holds a sign Tuesday supporting a 10-year, $50 million bond ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)