By Andrew Cluley
Ann Arbor Public Schools voters overwhelmingly passed a $33 million bond proposal May 5th. Superintendent Jeanice Swift says the community investment will make a real difference for students. “That’s new playgrounds, it’s secured entrances to keep our children safe, it’s beautiful new yellow school buses, and it’s an infused and refreshed learning environment that will support our children today and for generations to come,” she said.Some of these improvements will come as soon as next school year. The district expects to begin making classroom furniture purchases, install new playgrounds, and start buying new school buses.
The bond funds won’t directly help the general fund budget because they can’t be used for operations, but school board member Donna Lasinski says indirectly the bond passage helps. That’s because general fund dollars won’t be spent replacing outdated buses. “We have a bucket of funds that we can use to pay teachers and the state sets the water level there. What we never want to do is scoop out of that bucket, we want to keep that water level high to spend it as much as we can on keeping class sizes small and supporting our teachers and staff,” Lasinski says. “The plan calls for spending about $10.4 million over five years to buy 116 new buses.
Another $5 million dollars from the bond will pay for enhanced security at school entrances. Security improvements across the district will be complete in two years rather than ten thanks to the bond. Lasinski says security is an issue the community wants addressed. “We heard loud and clear from our parents, from our students, from our staff that the most important thing to them, the first thing they have to feel when they walk into one of our buildings, is they have to feel safe. They can’t accomplish anything if they don’t feel safe and secure in their environment,” Lasinski says.
Ann Arbor schools will spend $3 million from the bond on musical instruments and another $1 million for auditorium enhancements. Athletic fields will get $1 million in upgrades and $1.6 million will go towards playground improvements.
Superintendent Swift says all of these enhancements are possible without an increase in the millage rate taxpayers pay thanks to the historically low interest rates we’re experiencing right now. “So we were able to leverage $33 million without an increase to our community in their millage rate. Those opportunities are few and far between,” Swift says.
Over 70 percent of the votes cast supported the Ann Arbor Public Schools millage. The positive outcome came despite some concerns by supporters that the negative polling numbers for the statewide Proposal One might hurt the local proposal. The result thrills Lasinski. “Really excited that our Ann Arbor voters showed up educated and ready to respond to the Ann Arbor Public Schools proposal and then make their own independent decision on proposal one. “
Board President Deb Mexicotte agrees. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the support we have again received from the community,” she says.