Ann Arbor school board could ask voters for technology bond in November
For the past few months, Ann Arbor school board members have bemoaned the fact that the statewide ballot initiative Proposal A prevents Michigan school districts from levying taxes to help increase local funding for schools.
However, trustees are considering one of their options to raise funds to provide an upgrade in computers and other technology in schools. It would be the first major upgrade in 7 years.
School board president Deb Mexicotte said it’s likely that trustees will make an effort to get a technology bond on the November ballot.
The school board has spoken a few times in open meetings about the possibility of a bond but there are no plans set in stone, Mexicotte said.
“We’re encouraged by the fact that it’s a local millage that will allow us to get as much information out as easily as possible,” Mexicotte said. “It’s something the community understands really well. Upgrading technology is easy to understand and people understand the impact.”
In discussions at the board table during the past month, trustees have floated the idea of a technology bond or a bond to provide more infrastructure for all-day kindergarten if it becomes mandated by the state.
The technology bond idea originally surfaced when the board began discussing the necessary upgrades that would have to be made to implement the Northwest Educational Assessment program at district middle schools and high schools.
Although board members have begun discussing a potential bond for November, the discussion hasn’t reached the Balas Administration Building.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said any discussion about a bond issue is premature.
“We haven’t had any discussions at the cabinet level,” she said. “I know the board brought it up.”
The tax rate for the district on the sinking fund, which repays money borrowed on a bond issue, was at .9861-mills in the 2010-11 school year. The tax rate on the district's debt in 2010-11 was 2.0325-mills.
Ann Arbor voters approved a school bond issue in 2004, which resulted in numerous projects, including the building of Skyline High School and the district's last major technology upgrade for schools. That bond is scheduled to be paid back in full by 2029.
Mexicotte and trustee Andy Thomas both believe the support for public education in Ann Arbor is strong enough to consider a bond issue despite coming on the heels of a special education millage renewal vote in May.
Thomas said even 18 months ago he would have been skeptical about pursuing a millage due to the failure of the school enhancement millage in 2009.
He said the technology bond would be something Ann Arbor voters would understand because technology is widely used in the community. He said technology needs to be replaced on a regular basis, and even though it might be a painful process to refresh technology in schools, it will help provide a better education for students.
“The Ann Arbor district recognizes technology is the wave of the future,” he said. “A lot of people are working with technology every day at the university or some other company. People in Ann Arbor do recognize we need technology infrastructure in our schools.”
The frustration about not having any local authority to shrink the structural deficit in the general fund budget, which was about $16 million for the 2011-12 budget, gave way to a conversation on how best to use what local tax authority the district does have, Mexicotte said.
She said board members have to balance what other millages are up for renewal or what other possible areas of the school system might need to be funded when considering a bond for November. The school board would need to approve ballot language by August in order to have a bond on the November ballot and Mexicotte said it’s something the district plans on looking at throughout the summer.
“What’s happened is happened is we’ve opened up a conversation on the board,” she said. “If we are looking at our tax authority that we already have in the county and city, what would be a good way to sort of harness taxpayers desire for good schools and the desire to not have a millage every year or every five minutes?”
The state Department of Education and Gov. Rick Snyder have discussed moving from half-day to all-day kindergarten statewide, which would effectively create an unfunded mandate for school districts.
Locally, conversations have begun about the district’s ability to fit all the youngsters into current buildings.
District officials have said AAPS does not have the capability to have all kindergartners in school buildings at the same time right now. If that mandate were to come from the state, a bond could be used to fund building more classroom space.
Thomas said at this point he would need more information before considering putting a bond issue on the ballot for all-day kindergarten facilities.
“I’m not opposed to it, I’m not in favor of it,” he said. “I have not seen enough information for me to really speak intelligently on whether that’s something that should be brought forward.”