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BHS School Farm serves entire region at our expense

Our school farm benefits many who do not contribute to its tax funding. We may need to broaden its base.

The BHSD operates an 88-acre farm at the northeast corner of the district.  It's OUR farm.

The farm operates at taxpayer expense, and runs at a significant financial deficit.

Based on documents received from a FOIA request earlier this year, we know that the farm operates at a deficit of more than $350,000 annually.  That figure does not include any expense for veterinary care.  Our farm has many horses and other large animals. 

Farm Manager, Holly Glomski, is young, talented and enthusiastic.  She has developed many programs and features that may help bring in funds to support the farm's operation.  (Corn maze, summer farm/camp programs, "leasing" of farm animals, etc.)

But the farm belongs to BHSD taxpayers, who are obligated, by way of property tax requirements, to pay for its operating expenses.

(Don't get me wrong:  I like the farm.  I live near it, and enjoy seeing the pretty horses, sweet sheep, llamas, rolling acreage.  It's charming.  I also "like" expensive shoes and luxury vacations.  Doesn't mean I always get what I want, and I certainly don't ask other people to pay for them.)

Can our small, local, school district afford to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to operate a farm?  Is there a better way to operate the farm, without asking our students to sacrifice education tax funding to support it?

I watched a portion of a presentation by Ms. Glomski last evening (had to leave early, and I was very sorry to do so) and was struck by the fact that special programs at the farm are openly marketed to non-taxpayers and that resident taxpayers are NOT afforded any advantage in opportunity to participate.  This is wrong, and is a disservice to those of us who are obligated to support the farm.

According to the report, the BHSD farm had 50,000 visitors last year.  Where did they come from?  Do they pay taxes to support it?  Perhaps if the farm was operated as a county-wide or regional asset, more and better use of the acreage would be attained and its expense would not fall to BHSD taxpayers alone.

The farm operates at taxpayer expense.  Farm employees are paid by way of BHSD taxpayers.  They work for US.  The BHSD school farm should serve the BHSD.  If this taxpayer-base is not adequate to provide funding, then control of that acreage should be transferred to a regional operating authority.

The school farm is "unique."  Not many small school districts, like ours, can afford to operate an 88-acre farm using tax dollars intended for education.  I wonder if ANY school districts actually can afford this kind of expense.

Please don't try to convince me that there is anything "educational" about a Corn Maze.  Please don't try to convince me that the "farm pays for itself."  It isn't, and it doesn't.

I would like to suggest that BHSD leaders begin a conversation with the Oakland County Intermediate School district and Oakland County officials to see if regional funding might be made available to support the farm.  If elected, I will make this a priorty.  We BHSD taxpayers should not be required support an operation that is open to non-resident, non-taxpayers, with local education tax dollars, that runs in a deficit.

If our local school farm is being used by non-residents of the BHSD, and advertising funds are being used to attract non-taxpayers to enjoy it, who do not contribute to its tax funding, perhaps the farm should be operated by a regional organization or government entity, and not by our small, local school district.

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Joe Judge October 29, 2012 at 02:19 PM
So sell the Farm no matter how inexpensive it is to operate. Appreciate the honesty. But if you do that, you have to ship the Alternative High School students somewhere else, presumably not to the new school. That "somewhere else" will cost money to operate ... let's say it's $350,000 ... so now you have no real savings and you lost a tremendous amount of educational value for the rest of the district kids that are educated there. I also don't think selling the farm is realistic. There's no Tim Horton's in the future for this property. Sorry, not legally permissible under zoning and less than a zero chance the Township or the community would allow it. (cont.)
Joe Judge October 29, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The allegation that the District is on the brink of a fiscal cliff is wildly inaccurate based on the District's AAA credit rating, rare for a school district and, of course, there is strong demand for the new bonds. PFM, our independent bond consultants, could not heap more praise on the District for having its fiscal house in order. Does that mean that all budget projections are rosy? No, but projections push us to operate more efficiently. You don't relinquish the future by selling your core assets to solve today's structural budgetary issues unless you're really in trouble. We're not. That's avoiding making responsible decisions about costs now. Sure, you might plug a gap for a year or 2 ... or if you sell the farm, maybe 3 or 4 ... but then comes years 5 through ....oh, say... as long as their is a BHSD (50 years...300 years?) and, once it's gone, you can't sell the farm again to fix such budget issues in the future. I'm not saying we shouldn't look at our excess property. I just think given the unique character of the farm, it's history as an asset of this community, it's current use as the Alternative High School, it's use for education of all ages and, importantly, taking a longer view of the issue, it would not be high on my list of properties to sell. It's an interesting issue. I don't support short-sighted efforts to sell it and I CERTAINLY do not support efforts to transfer control of it out of the District. Local control. It's our property, after all.
M. Belden October 29, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I would also point out that perhaps one of the reasons our school district owns such properties as the farm and the nature center is because, unlike everywhere else I have ever lived, Bloomfield has no parks, and the parks and recreation function is included in the responsibilities of the school district. I suspect this is because it saves local taxpayers money?
Ann October 29, 2012 at 07:20 PM
M. Belden is right. Add to that that Bloomfield is landlocked, so once open spaces are given up they can never be restored. In most municipalities, the township would own the Nature Center and farm, or a private non-profit would run them. If the township, county, or a non-profit is ready to take on these responsibilities, the BHSD could reasonably consider turning those properties over to them. As it stands, the BHSD is doing an admirable job of managing these properties in a way that benefits the community, provides educational opportunities, and maximizes opportunities to defray costs.
S Sera October 30, 2012 at 04:22 AM
"Charles L. Bowers School Farm was purchased in the mid-1960’s by the Bloomfield Hills School District to be used as a land laboratory. We are housed on 96 acres within Bloomfield Hills." http://www.bloomfield.org/departments/charles-l-bowers-school-farm/index.aspx "The E. L. Johnson Nature Center offers a variety of instructional programs that support classroom learning. All programs are based on specific science and social studies content expectations(GLCE's) as outlined by the Michigan Department of Education." information regarding the history of the Nature Center can be found at http://www.bloomfield.org/departments/el-johnson-nature-center/our-history/index.aspx That our school district has found ways to offset the costs of these two "living laboratories/learning spaces" while retaining possession of them for all residents to enjoy should be commended. As Ann says below, if these should be lost they will never be able to be restored.

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