Wayland district slashes size of next bond idea
Wayland Union Schools will be putting another bond project to a public vote, though it will be much smaller than the one voters rejected May 2.
To start the discussion, district administration proposed an approximately $20.5 million plan; at their regular Monday, May 15, meeting, school board members largely agreed to explore it.
School board president Gary Wood said, “We met last week and asked the superintendent to bring us another option that we can go to the community with that we feel would address the largest number of district facility needs that were identified and for a lower cost.”
The district put a pair of proposals on the May 2 ballot that totaled nearly $55 million. They would have built a new elementary school and new middle school wing to address crowding concerns. There would also have been a variety of other infrastructure improvements along with a new 10-lane swimming pool; the district is hoping to replace the deteriorating, 42-year-old current pool.
Going from two proposals to one and slashing the cost by 63 percent means leaving some improvements behind.
Instead of building a new elementary school, Pine Street Elementary will remain open with approximately $1.85 million in improvements to its elevator, fire suppression and heating and cooling systems.
Gone as well is the artificial surface for the football field and the new pool.
The proposal includes approximately $8.4 million in security, technology and infrastructure improvements for buildings throughout the district.
The new middle school wing remains, for an estimated $9.69 million, and is expected to ease some of the crowding issues, at least in the near-term.
“It’s expected that eighth-grade can go there, allowing us to make Pine Street a four-to-five building,” Taylor said, noting the grades it would house.
New to the proposal would be the replacement of the district’s 12 tennis courts which are in disrepair and are approximately 15 years old. That is expected to cost about $2.3 million.
While issues such as the pool and other projects remain on the to-do list, Taylor said they may have to wait for future projects.
“(This proposal is) a starting point for a second round,” Taylor said. “This is not a final version, but it’s a talking point.”
If passed in this form, voters could expect a tax increase of 0.4 mill. That equates to an additional $30 per year for a home that is worth $150,000 (with $75,000 in taxable value).
One major factor driving the size of that millage down is timing. Yes, the overall debt is smaller, but the factors that determine the size of the millage to repay it also changed. The state calculates the millage using a five-year average of the growth in taxable value in the county. As of this week, that five-year window shifts, excluding 2012 and including 2017.
That 2012 year pulled down the average. Taylor described it this way: for the May ballot, simply renewing and extending the 8.4-mill tax the district uses to pay off its current debt would support only $11.4 million of new debt.
For November, because that five-year window has shifted, the same millage supports $16 million of new debt, mainly because taxable values are on the rise, which in turn increases the amount a tax collects.
So, a $20.5 million project would only require a 0.4-mill increase to handle the new debt.
Taylor said that was an 89-percent reduction in the millage rate compared to the May 2 proposals.
“Administratively, we feel this is the biggest bang for the smallest buck,” he said.
School board members and district administration will attempt to reach out to voters to solicit feedback on the new proposal. Taylor said there would be efforts to seek out more than simply comments online by posting fliers at local stores, for example.
School board members will host a public forum to hear comments on the proposal Thursday, June 1, at the middle school cafeteria.
Taylor said a representative from the project’s architectural firm, Tower Pinkster, will be on hand to answer questions about the plan and its pricing estimates. Representatives from the district’s financial services firm, Public Financial Management of Ann Arbor, will be on hand to discuss the debt service numbers.
At their Monday, June 12, regular meeting, school board members will vote to determine the final scope of the project.
Tower Pinkster will then spend several weeks to create the lengthy submission to be sent to the state treasury for approval. Taylor will take that to a meeting with the treasury department June 26.
School board members will vote on the preliminary qualified application July 10. Treasury then responds within several weeks.
If that is approved, school board members will vote on the official ballot language at their regular meeting Aug. 14. It is due to the county clerk’s office by Aug. 15.
The election is Nov. 7.
Though board members want feedback on the new proposal, most intend to rely on the results of last year’s study.
The district paid a little more than $19,000 for an Epic MRA survey of voters in the district. Three hundred adults were polled in September 2016; the results were presented to school board members by that October.
Board vice president Peter Zondervan said the district needed to hear from those who voted “no” and the short time for feedback would limit that effort.
“That’s the important thing,” Zondervan said. “We need to hear what are the roadblocks to this one being successful.”
Wood argued placing too much emphasis on feedback received now would not be good, as it would be not be collected in a way that reliably represented the community.
“The bigger message of the election was that $55 million was too large,” Wood said. “The next step will be to come back with something more acceptable. If that’s not approved, then we can start from scratch. But we paid a lot of money for a real, independent survey we didn’t follow. The first step is to follow that.”
Board secretary Janel Hott said she was on the citizens committee that made the recommendation for the May proposals.
“We went for the pie in the sky,” Hott said. “If we had listened, they said ‘no’ to the pool, ‘no’ to tax increases.”
Later in the meeting, the board was asked why the Epic MRA study recommendations weren’t followed.
Taylor said the committee felt as though it could explain the needs and convince voters to support the bond projects. He said the full renovation of Pine Street was nearly as much as building new, so that was chosen, along with the pool.
“They knew they were going beyond the survey, but I don’t know that anyone flaunted the survey,” he said.
Board trustee Dan Cassini said he felt any kind of informal surveys the district did at this point would only cloud the issue.
“When you have an unscientific survey, it may not reflect what the upcoming vote may be,” Cassini said.
Treasurer Toni Orway said she felt the new proposal had been pared down to the true needs of the district.
“I feel like I’ve taken an effort to talk to people I wouldn’t normally hear from, and I can’t believe the variety of answers I’d get about the proposals,” Ordway said. “At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to invest too much of the decision based on that—when a survey we paid for (accurately predicted the election outcome).”
Cassini said, “I think this is still a great time to be in Wayland. I encourage more people to come out and stay involved; good things are happening.”
Contact Ryan Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 673-5534.
Editor’s note: The story above contains an updated date for a decision on the final scope of the project. Wayland school administration notified The Allegan County News after the May 18 issue went to press that the decision was now expected at the school board’s regular June 12 meeting.