MCBAIN — It’s looking like the McBain School Board will ask voters for a third time to support a bond for the school.
The past two attempts, in 2018 and 2019, each for about $14 million, failed.
During December’s school board meeting, Superintendent Steve Prissel told the board he thinks the school does need a bond and he advises putting it on the ballot in May 2020.
To do so, the school board will have to move fast — the latest they could vote to put it on the ballot is February 10, 2020 because the filing deadline is Feb. 11 — and there’s much to think about, according to board members and people who attended the meeting.
Treasurer Matt Kline indicated he wasn’t sure about putting the bond on the May 5 ballot.
“Personally I am really concerned with all the negative attention and negative publicity the last one had,‘ Kline said. He wondered whether going for just a part of the bond — technology and busing, for example — might work.
That tracked with some of the comments made by Ken Stahl, who is a former school board member and the leader of an informal “study group‘ of unnamed individuals Stahl says are willing to serve on committees and consult with the board on reducing the cost of the bond.
Stahl spoke during public comment and gave a handout of his talking points to the school board (he refused to give the Cadillac News a copy, saying the group wanted to work behind-the-scenes; however, the document would have been subject to the Freedom of Information Act and Superintendent Prissel gave the newspaper a copy).
“Our goal is not to have a public presence. Our goal is not to be public about, you know, what we’re doing,‘ Stahl said during his remarks. “We’re not underground. But our goal is to stand behind the school, the administration. We are not going to be spokesmen ... we’re not going to release information.‘
Stahl spoke in favor of a sinking fund, which Prissel then addressed later in the meeting during his bond presentation.
Most school districts in Michigan do not use sinking funds. Those that do have to keep the funds separate and are limited in what they can spend the money on (school safety improvements, technology improvements, and the repair and construction of school buildings, according to a slideshow presentation from Prissel). But sinking funds are a so-called “pay-as-you-go‘ alternative to bonds that mean taxpayers aren’t saddled with interest. If voters approve, sinking funds can levy up to three mills for 10 years. Prissel estimated that a sinking fund of 1 mill would generate $247,000 per year in the McBain school district.
Another sticking point was the LED lighting — members of Stahl’s group and Superintendent Prissel said there may be a way to improve lighting efficiency at the school for less than the estimate in the first two versions of the bond.
The “study group‘ is also calling for additional study and research on the boiler system, building security, athletics and parking.
During Prissel’s subsequent presentation, he estimated the cost of technology, buses, roofs, LED lighting, boilers and mechanical improvements, safety upgrades (without a separate secure entrance for the high school) and flooring and window improvements would be about $6.38 million. That’s without improvements for athletics, re-working parking, or adding classrooms.
But the district needs a bond, Prissel said.
“I do not see any way that the district can provide for our students what they need without doing some type of bond,‘ Prissel said.
That could be a combination of a sinking fund and a typical bond; it could be with revised estimates for lighting and other equipment and asking the community to pay for less things.
That’s all something the board will have to consider before putting the question to voters once again.
Prissel said he prefers putting the question on the ballot in May because waiting for August would mean endangering the regular 18-mill operating millage. Voters are expected to re-up the millage businesses pay (it doesn’t affect primary residences). If the bond and the 18-mill issue were on the ballot at the same time, it may confuse voters and cause both to fail, with drastic consequences for the school’s budget.
But waiting for November of 2020, which would be a full year after voters last rejected a bond, could mean the school district would be forced to buy buses out of the general fund.
“It’s going to be, you know, 90 grand, we’re never going to get back again. Same thing with technology. It just pushes it further and further down,‘ Prissel explained.
In the discussion, board members mentioned “pay-to-play‘ for sports, privatization of some services, and whether school-owned property could be logged.
“There’s a lot of options. And it’s a lot to think about ... we know something needs to be done,‘ Prissel said. “What are we going to put in front of the voters? That’s going to pass? That’s always the question.‘