ELPS Board Unanimously Passes $98 Million Bond Proposal

Tuesday, December 13, 2016, 6:38 am
Karessa Wheeler

Above: Glencairn Elementary

Last night, the Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to ask voters for a $98 million bond to rebuild five elementary schools and renovate Red Cedar Elementary.

Trustee Kath Edsall, who was unsuccessful in her re-election bid last month, has long supported putting programming back into the now-closed south side school. Last night, in between the many speakers thanking her for her service, Edsall offered an amendment to the proposal that would include housing “some early childhood programming” at Red Cedar at “its earliest availability.”

The amendment, seconded by Trustee Hillary Henderson, was passed unanimously.

The entire resolution includes rebuilding Donley, Glencairn, Marble, Pinecrest and Whitehills elementary schools with Red Cedar serving as a “swing school” to house students while their school is under construction. There were few details offered about the configuration of the schools except that there would be thirteen teaching stations at the five rebuilt schools and seven teaching stations at Red Cedar. They also specifically said they would keep the 5th grade population below 290 students.

The resolution stated that the bond would not exceed $98 million. For a house with the taxable value of $100,000, the increase would be $180 a year, regardless of how many schools are eventually built.

“What is best for our community? The answer is simple. Healing. As I said, this has divided our community for 20 years,” Edsall said. “I personally hope we can move ahead and heal this community with this bond, that we can find something for everyone, that we can work together as one community, listen to each other and come together on this.”

The resolution was proposed by Trustee Erin Graham and seconded by Trustee Kate Powers.

Henderson, who along with Graham was recently re-elected to the Board, acknowledged that the resolution did not have many specific details but asked the community to trust them and work with them to move forward with the bond.

The Board hopes to call a special election to put the bond proposal before EL residents this spring.

“This is a necessary thing that needs to happen in East Lansing,” Henderson said. “This is our framework. We hope to get more detail as we go. This is the best way to move forward and get more community and staff input on this.”

The bond proposal resulted from the work of the Community Bond Committee which studied the condition of the five currently open schools along with Red Cedar. They determined that all five need to be demolished and completely rebuilt while Red Cedar is usable with a renovation only.

The Committee put forth two scenarios to the Board: Scenario One, which was supported by 75 percent of the committee, was to rebuild five small elementary schools and renovate Red Cedar. Scenario Two was to rebuild two small and three medium elementary schools, similar to the current configuration, along with renovating Red Cedar.

The School Board did not specify which scenario it preferred in its resolution Monday night. Trustee Kate Powers addressed this issue and emphasized that the most important thing to do was to pass the bond and ensure new schools are built.

“We understand the community likes to know what they are voting for and on. This proposal does not contain all those details but this is how we get this process started,” Powers said. “At the end of the day, our elementary school facilities are not useful. Our community needs new elementary school facilities. We will work to bring you data and numbers that you can feel good about. As it stands now, new buildings are necessary whether they are rebuilt or renovated.”

The next step in the process is for the District’s administration to create a proposal for the Michigan Department of Treasury for preliminary approval, before putting this issue before the voters. This preliminary proposal is due January 12, 2017.

After the full roll call vote was passed and each Trustee voted “yes,” many in the audience rose and applauded.

Before the vote, three parents spoke to the Board about the bond proposal. Sarah Comstock asked the Board to lay out a clear vision that is driven by scientific data. She also asks that they be careful to not build too many schools or build schools too large, in case federal funding is decreased by the incoming administration.

Resident James Anderson commented that the Board needs to consider ways to strengthen the link between the District and MSU, which would include re-opening Red Cedar in some form.

Finally, resident Julianna Hannah said that the Board should listen to the community, “steer away from fear and entitlement” and find a way to “not have Red Cedar in the forefront” of the bond proposal.

But although the bond proposal was the largest item on the agenda, most of the night was spent by community members and Board members alike thanking Edsall for her service and saying goodbye.

“I am here to say thank you to Kath Edsall for her selfless service to East Lansing – her years of being involved, sharing her courage, her bravery, her fierce defense of all those who need extra support and attention, and being a voice for those who have been marginalized,” said Liesel Carlson.

Donna Kaplowitz presented Edsall with flowers and said “her heart is as big as a mountain.”

Terah Chambers called Edsall “my Board hero” who has been “exceptionally prepared and knowledgeable at every meeting.”

“I have appreciated your strong voice on the Board and the fact that you keep coming back is a remarkable trait,” Chambers said “Thank you for your service. We will miss your tireless advocacy.”

Fellow Board members also thanked Edsall and praised her passion and advocacy.

“She has a sensitivity and passion that exposes her beautiful, big heart,” said Board President Nell Kuhnmuench.

In other Board action, the Trustees unanimously adopted a resolution “reaffirming East Lansing’s ongoing commitment to inclusion.” The joint resolution with the City of East Lansing listed the long history of inclusive acts by both the City administration and the School District.

Thasin Sardar, outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center, praised the Board for making the community welcoming to all people, especially those coming from other countries to study at MSU.

“It is important that the transient student population at MSU go back to their countries with fond memories of their children studying in our school system. It is important that the children are taken care of and you are ensuring that will happen,” Sardar said.

The full resolution can be read here


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