With only fourteen weeks left to convince approximately 5,000 East Lansing voters to approve a $93.7 million bond, a small group of about twenty organizers met last night to begin their campaign.
Eric Schertzing, Chair of the East Lansing Schools Community Bond Committee, and his wife, Nancy, are coordinating the effort that is currently being called “East Lansing School Bond Yes Committee 2017.” Citizens must lead any efforts to persuade voters because the School District’s administration and the Board of Trustees are bound by law to put out only factual information.
“The education efforts are more school district-based; advocacy is what we are about,” Schertzing said. “This is something we have been working on since 2010 but now we are on a fairly tight deadline and have multiple steps that need to be taken.”
Architect Steve Merriman advised the committee that they would likely need at least 5,000 ‘yes’ votes to pass the millage. In 2012, the millage failed in a vote of 3,000 yes to 3,300 no, he said.
Attending the meeting Tuesday were a mix of current elementary school parents from across the District, older parents whose children have already completed school and those whose children have not yet begun. Also attending were former superintendent David Chapin, former School Board Trustees Kath Edsall and Allyse Anderson, and current Trustees Erin Graham and Nell Kuhnmuench.
Other members of the community bond committee present were Dan Bollman and Terah Chambers.
Earlier this month, the School Board passed a prequalification application to the State Department of Treasury, the first step in holding a bond election on May 2. The election will ask voters to approve an increase in millage to pay for the demolition and rebuilding of Donley, Glencairn, Marble, Pinecrest and Whitehills elementary schools, and renovations to Red Cedar Elementary School.
At a special meeting on February 6, the Board is expected to approve the final wording for the ballot proposal.
Meanwhile, the advocacy group is moving forward in filing financial forms and collecting donations. They hope to have a website complete with Frequently Asked Questions, testimonials and data on the District. They plan to create videos and marketing materials to deliver to parent-teacher associations and other community groups. Members also plan to create social media accounts to reach a greater number of voters.
However, one woman who would not give her name came to the meeting to express her dismay at the proposal and said that neither she nor her husband could support a bond proposal when nearly 23 percent of East Lansing’s students come from outside the District as part of the State’s Schools of Choice program.
“If Schools of Choice went out the door, I would be advocating for this,” she said. “But to build five new schools for people who are not residents of this community, I am offended by that. We are not doing it for our community but we are doing it for everyone.”
Schertzing and other members noted that residential enrollment has been flat and that opening up slots to Schools of Choice children allows the district to keep five neighborhood schools open as well as giving them the flexibility to adjust the population that feeds the middle and high schools.
“East Lansing is the city of the arts and of education. We will continue to be attractive for residential and Schools of Choice families. With new facilities, we will be even more attractive,” Schertzing said. “I would hate to see the future of East Lansing Schools to be less than it is today.”
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 31 at Hannah Community Center in Room 211. For more information, contact Eric Schertzing at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (517) 303-7233.