I am voting No on the $79,000,000 proposal to combine Lahser and Andover students in a new high school because it is bad for education. Research clearly shows that smaller is better and the sweet spot 600 – 900 students under one roof. The ballot proposal plans for 1,650-2,000 students in one high school. If the ballot fails, the District plans to implement one high school on two sites with around 1,200 10-12th graders at Andover and around 400 9th graders at a 9th grade academy in the Lahser facility.
Three times voters have said no to new. Voters surveyed by District paid consultants said they wanted two small renovated schools. Fielding Nair International, hired by the District this round said, “…when it comes to the issue of one school vs. two, there are two “camps” within the Bloomfield Hills community. One camp which is the larger community of Bloomfield Hills prefers to have two schools and the other camp – the educational community led by the School Leadership, School Board and the Superintendent’s Office – prefers to have one consolidated high school.”
Many bond proponents say, “But Chris, we can’t afford the alternative.” I believe bond proponents have it backwards. This is the worst possible time to build a new high school. Why?
- The district faces a $48,000,000 budget problem over the next 4 years. The district states that by combining the two high schools they will save $2.4M/year. However, if the bond fails, Plan B will save $1.0M/year, therefore the real savings against the bond is $1.4M/year. It is inappropriate to invest in a plan that falls so significantly short of the budget deficit. Significant restructuring will be necessary and no one knows if having one high school is the best solution. As an example, perhaps the International Academy should be moved to Lahser along with the 9th grade academy.
- The interest on this $59M bond is $52M. Interest begins at $4.2M/year and doesn’t reach the $1.4M cost savings breakpoint until 19 years into the loan. So in fact, for the first 19 years the interest will be higher than the savings.
- Members of the community prefer renovations and improvements via sinking funds which they have generously approved in the amount of $62.5M. They prefer this “pay as you go” method. There are no interest costs associated with sinking funds. Every dollar approved in sinking funds goes directly to the schools; none to the banks.
- The District states that if the bond fails, there will be curriculum cuts. With a $48M budget problem, curriculum cuts are inevitable. These cuts can affect a very small percentage of the student population when administered properly. Unfortunately, with administrators focusing on building a new high school and all of the transitional issues, it will be significantly more difficult for the District to identify and implement the tough choices they will need to make to balance budgets.
- Alternatively, high school repairs and improvements could be funded by sinking funds that require zero interest. That is why our community approved $50M and $12.5M in sinking funds. Unfortunately, far too little of those approved funds were allocated to the high schools and yes, these buildings are deteriorating faster than they should.
- Perhaps another sinking fund may be sought for additional improvements to the schools, but the bond proposal simply throws away $53M because proponents WANT a big elaborate new high school NOW. With a little patience, this community can have what it NEEDS which are small, renovated neighborhood schools dedicated to academic outcomes.
Proponents of this proposal say that by passing this bond your taxes will go down. Really??? The only reason we are voting is because they are asking for a tax increase! Then they say other taxes will be expiring thus there will be a net reduction. Again I say really??? Does that mean that the District won’t ask for renewals? Of course they will. These days it is impossible for the District to survive without sinking funds to maintain and improve our schools. Further, who would ever believe they won’t be asking for tax increase in the next 26 years --- the length of the bond? Impossible.
Proponents say build it, they will come, and our property values will go up. Nonsense; property values go up when educational outcomes go up --- not when elaborate facilities are built via tax increases. Smaller is better, this proposal takes us in the wrong direction.
Proponents tout the operational savings resulting from consolidation. It is quite interesting that while roughly 60% of the proposed expenditures are allocated to non-educational spaces (Arts, Sports, etc.), there will actually be fewer opportunities for students to participate in sports and the arts because that’s where a significant amount of the savings come from --- fewer teams, fewer plays, fewer bands, etc.
When we vote No, Plan B will improve and maintain both Lahser and Andover. We will continue to be able to use two pools, two theaters, two sets of gyms, etc. The concept is one high school on two campuses, so shame on the District if they maintain administrative staffs for both buildings. And the bussing time and costs will largely be eliminated since so few 9th graders need to travel to 10-12th grade classes.
If the bond passes, the District will continue to use the athletic fields at Lahser and they have no plans for dealing with the building itself. Based on their track record of keeping and maintaining unused assets (Pine Lake, Hickory Grove, Wabeek), there is no reason to believe they will do anything different with Lahser.
- Vote NO…Repair, improve and maintain our existing facilities with taxes we have already approved.
- Vote NO…Reject $58,650,000 in new tax debt in an unstable economy.
- Vote NO…Tell the District to eliminate waste and preserve our two high school facilities.
- Vote NO…New, elaborate facilities do not improve academics.
More than 60% of the proposed funds will be spent on non-academic spaces (Sports, Arts, etc.).
- It makes NO SENSE to spend $79 million on a high school to “save” $1.4 million per year.
- The District currently faces a $48,000,000 budget deficit over the next 4 years. Without any plans to solve this problem, it is the worst possible time to build a new high school.