If you are like me, you have been struggling over the last few months to keep up with the fragmented arguments being made by the few opponents of the Grosse Pointe Public School System’s technology bond. This is certainly understandable, as their points are often contradictory. Still, many of them have been repeated so often that questions have begun to circulate, so now is a good time to take a look at each of the arguments one by one.
Before the proposal was even put on the ballot for residents to decide, opponents tried to kill it by arguing that the administration was purposefully asking the Grosse Ponte tax payer for too much money. When they offered a plan that would cost $48 million, the board decided to bring in a third party to review the proposal. Three companies of experts were hired and they found that the administration was actually asking for slightly less than what they believed the project would cost. That is how we got to the $52 million proposal that is currently before voters.
One thing that opponents have tried to do is confuse residents by suggesting that the plan on the ballot is for $60 million. The team of experts the administration brought in did present a larger plan, but our board decided to strip out some of the energy efficiency projects, which reduced the cost by $8 million.
Voters are currently deciding on a responsible bond that would update aging infrastructure, replace outdated computers, and improve security systems to comply with state law.
So now we need to look at each of these pieces of the proposal and dissect what the opposition has been suggesting. First, some have insisted that the bond inappropriately covers things that are not related to technology.
This is not true. Updating infrastructure and wiring is a massive project that will require some flooring to be removed as well as other demolishing and remodeling. Opponents of the bond take issue with using bond money to pay for this, but in actuality, it would be irresponsible to tear a floor apart without money to replace it.
Others have taken issue with the replacement of the district’s computers which are older than many of the students who use them. They have brandied about polarizing phrases like “government handout” and accused the district of using taxpayer money to give iPads to children.
This is not true. To begin with, public education is not a government handout. The state of Michigan is constitutionally obligated to provide it to residents, and the state Supreme Court has ruled that school districts are legally required to provide students with their classroom materials in order to comply with this constitutional mandate. In other words, it is not legal to require students to purchase their own computers to use in school.
Additionally, there is absolutely nothing in the proposal before voters that says every student will receive an iPad. No decision has been made about what devices will be purchased, and it may in fact be that different grade levels will take advantage of different technology. Elementary level students might need tablets to practice their reading and writing skills using various apps. Middle school children might need laptops to develop a presentation for one of their classes. High school students might need desktop computers to use class time to write a research paper.
One confusing point with regards to instructional devices is that some have argued that we shouldn’t be spending money on technology that will be outdated in a few years, and others have contradicted this point by opposing the district’s plan for a refresh of devices claiming that we are buying too many. Opponents of the bond cannot have it both ways. As it stands, the bond responsibly updates existing computers and provides for a refresh of those devices.
Some have also argued that the security proposals are extreme and unnecessary. That Grosse Pointe is one of the safest communities in the state and we shouldn’t be spending money on security.
This is not true. The current proposals are based on a survey of the community in which concerns about building security were clearly present. Because of this, the district brought in security experts to do a review of our buildings, and the current proposals are based largely on those findings. The bond will upgrade phones to comply with state law that requires they transmit location when dialing 911, equip schools with new doors that make use of swipe card technology that records who is entering the building, and provide upgraded cameras that can zoom in on a person’s face in case of an emergency.
Some people have taken issue with these measures because they say they are pricey proposals that do not do enough to solve the problem. I agree with them. But we can’t sit around and do nothing but make false claims that there is no way to secure our buildings simply because we might have concerns about the financial costs. Parents want to send their children to safe schools, and two teams of experts have now told us that there is more we could be doing, that we are not taking advantage of the latest technology to keep our buildings safe. We need to listen to them.
Some have called this fear mongering, I call it responding to reality. Yes, that reality is scary, but it’s even scarier when we choose to do nothing to address it.
If we do what some in the community have suggested and go forward with these proposal without passing a bond to pay for them, the financial strength of our district will be put in jeopardy. Opponents of the bond again suggest that this is a mere use of scare tactics to get people to support the bond. Again, I call it a response to the new reality created by the contract that teachers have with the district. Opponents claim there is a surplus in our district that we could use to pay for all these upgrades without having to make cuts elsewhere.
This is not true. At the end of this fiscal year, the district will have roughly $4 million in its reserve fund. There are two important things to note about this reserve. 1.) Moody’s recently downgraded the District’s bond rating in part because they felt that reserve fund was too small. Spending the balance of it on technology would likely result in further downgrades. 2.) Teachers recently agreed to a contract that ties their pay to the amount of money in the reserve. Teachers are contractually obligated to take pay cuts to make up for any deficit in the fund when it is below $10 million. Because of record cuts to education under bipartisan leadership in Lansing, the district is currently working extremely hard and partnering with teachers to build that fund back up to healthy levels. Under current conditions, it is projected that by the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year, the district will still be roughly $2 million short of the magic $10 million figure. Spending that money now is a fiscally irresponsible plan.
The real fact of the matter, however, is that the average family in Grosse Pointe doesn’t care about any of this. They just want to send their children to a school where they can get an education that prepares them for a modern 21st century world outside of the K-12 classroom, in college and beyond. They want their kids to take advantage of the mobile learning opportunities that kids in other districts do every day. They don’t want their kids wasting class time waiting for their computers to boot up. Parents of students who might not be good test takers, might not be good at sitting and following a 40 minute lecture, or maybe have trouble staying motivated to read a dry and disengaging text book just want their teachers to have the tools needed to reach their kids in other more innovative and creative ways. And God knows they want their kids learning in the safest possible buildings that take advantage of the latest technology to provide state of the art security.
The Grosse Pointe technology bond will do all of this. Yes, it will cost money. In the end, though, it will improve the quality of services our community can offer to its residents, and that will benefit everyone.