Campaign Against BHS High School Merger Begins
Voters voice their anger, concerns over $58 million bond request to unify Andover and Lahser campuses in one building on the May 8 ballot.
Residents opposed to the Bloomfield Hills Schools' request for a $58 million bond to merge Andover and Lahser high schools on one campus voiced their concerns and commitment to defeat the May 8 ballot request during their first formal public meeting Monday.
The gathering, organized by Bloomfield 20/20 and Bloomfield Voice, drew roughly 50 people to the Bloomfield Township Senior Services building who learned more about the "No" campaign and left galvanized by their frustration over a tax they call unnecessary.
"People are fed up," said township resident Kris Enborg. "How many times have we voted for this and they keep coming back?"
The Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education adopted the plan to merge both schools at a partly renovated and partly new school on the current Andover campus late last year, and approved the controversial millage request unanimously last month.
It's the third time voters will decide to fund a millage aimed to address the district's aging high schools. The prior ballot requests for $121 million and $73 million lost convincingly at the polls in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Unlike prior attempts, the district has committed $20 million toward this $79 million project, and plans to open a unified Bloomfield Hills High School on two campuses in the fall of 2013, even if the millage fails.
But attendees at Monday's meeting said they fear the 26-year bond has the potential to sharply increase property taxes over time and that they already approved funds for building maintenance that they don't believe the district utilized properly.
"Where's the accountability?" asked Enborg, who was sitting with other equally frustrated mothers of children that now attend area private schools. "We already voted and approved that money."
Others called the measure an unfair, unnecessary tax that does not serve the students.
Michael Banerian, a junior at Lahser that started Bloomfield Voice to target younger voters in the district, said many of his classmates disapprove of the merger and the district's emphasis on facilities.
"We have two different communities at Andover and Lahser, and there will be a lot of issues mixing together," he said.
Banerian also said the plan limited opportunities for students, as there will be less spots available for sports teams, theater productions and music programs in a merged high school.
The current plan is a combination of new construction and renovation to parts of the existing Andover High School campus. If the bond passes, the hybrid building could house 1,650 students at a new Bloomfield Hills High School by the Fall of 2015. Students would leave the Andover site for two years and be split. Ninth-graders would move to Hickory Grove, and grades 10-12 would relocate to Lahser High School. Model High School would move to Pine Lake during the transition and would fit on the proposed new high school campus.
District officials said the plan offers more value than previous attempts to merge the high schools, and that the area would retain one of the lowest tax rates for schools in Oakland County as other tax levies phase out.
Superintendent Rob Glass said the plan is needed to address declining enrollment, capture annual budget savings projected at $2.4 million, and to draw a divisive issue in the Bloomfield community to a close. Board of Education Trustee Joan Berndt and a few other millage supporters were in attendance, but remained largely quiet during the 90-minute meeting.
Enrollment and state funding may decline, but closing a facility when the district has existing funds that the community approved is the wrong route, said Bloomfield 20/20 spokeswoman Jenny Greenwell.
"We want our two small high schools," she said. "If enrollment is down and you need to split them to a ninth and tenth (grade) building or 11th and 12th, so be it. We're not about to plow one under and we've told them so."
Greenwell handed out several bumper stickers and small signs to attendees and urged them to speak to their neighbors and contribute to their campaign to defeat the millage.
Bloomfield Township resident Ron Portser said he saw it as a "preventative spending."
"If they pass this thing, then we'll be paying for a very long time and it's not going to stop," he said after submitting a personal check to the cause. "I'm worried about what they'll want next for the middle schools."
For previous coverage of this issue please see our High School Consolidation in Bloomfield Hills Topic Page.