By Chris Faulknor, Publisher & Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
In a few weeks, Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education is expected to decide whether it will ask voters in May 2020 for a $26 million bond to help fund $30 million in school improvements.
In an effort to educate the community on the state of the school system’s properties and equipment, as well as to gather public input, Boyne City Public Schools recently hosted two community meetings—one on Thursday Nov. 7 and the other on Wednesday Nov. 13.
“Obviously, this is a big topic in our community,” said Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little during the Monday Nov. 11 regular Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education Meeting…. “We had a really good turnout last Wednesday (Nov. 7) for the community meeting.”
Nearly three dozen people attended the first meeting, and 11 attended the second, which were intended to gather feedback from the community about maintaining and improving the school system’s facilities and equipment.
Some of the proposed improvements include:
Not a tax increase
The current millage is 3.14 mils. In the year 2021, the current millage is expected to drop to 1.76 mils.
Little said that, if the bond measure were sought and approved, the millage would continue at 3.14 mils.
During the Monday Nov. 11 regular school board meeting, Boyne City resident and business owner Leslie Neilson shared her concerns over the proposed bond project.
“I just want everybody to know that everything I say is coming from a good place. It’s coming from my heart, for our children,” she said.
According to Neilson, she was concerned with Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education Treasurer Ross McLane’s original statement at an Oct. 14 board of ed meeting and tour of the school facilities that he had concerns that nearly 57 percent of the bond moneys were preliminarily slated to go toward athletics costs.
Nielson said that the number was later touted at the Nov. 7 meeting as actually being 47 percent. She said she wasn’t sure whether that was a misstatement by McLane or a typo caused by the Boyne City Gazette—the only news outlet to attend the Oct. 14 board of ed workshop.
“But, looking at … how things are broken down in the handout I received, I think 57 percent is the correct number and some things were creatively moved around to lower the amount of money that would be used toward athletics,” said Neilson.
She added, “[E]ven 47 percent doesn’t sit well with me.”
In a Monday Nov. 18 discussion with Little, he told Boyne City Gazette that McLane had misstated the 57 percent figure. He also said the figures he has been sharing have not changed.
“The board is not interested in raising people’s taxes,” Little said.
The proposal centers around a potentially $14 million fieldhouse between the Boyne City Middle and High School with a suspended walking track, weight room and storage area.
If approved, construction on the fieldhouse and middle school renovations would begin in the spring of 2021. In 2023, many of the other improvements would begin.
“I feel this complex is going to be sold to the community as open to the public and I take issue with this, as one of the reasons we are connecting the buildings is to make the area more secure,” said Neilson. “How are we going to be able to secure this area during the day while school is in session if it truly will be open to the public so they can use the second-floor walking track.”
Little told the Boyne City Gazette that anyone looking to use the walking track will need to check in before using it. He also said people are already able to use the school to do their walking.
“This fieldhouse thing has been in this community for a long time—people talking about it,” he said.
Neilson said she loves the idea of a fieldhouse but not one connecting the two schools which could allow people unaffiliated with the school system to enter the building throughout the day.
“I believe this is opening our children up to unnecessary danger and (I) will advocate that any fieldhouse that is built be a stand-alone building,” she said. “Introducing strangers into our children’s environment on a daily basis is not something that sets well with me.”
Construction VS. Renovation
Neilson pointed out some figures by the National Center for Education Statistics that, after 40 years, school buildings begin rapid deterioration. And, after 60 years, most schools are abandoned.
The following are the ages of the current school buildings:
“I applaud Mr. McLane for questioning remodeling a 58-year-old building and the lack of due diligence the board is doing by trying to get this on the May ballot,” Neilson said. “I understand the need so the citizens don’t have to vote on a new tax if we let the current bond lapse. But, should our children have to suffer for decades to come because the board dropped the ball?”
Little said it is more cost-effective to do some renovation and new construction mixed rather than bulldozing entire buildings and making new.
He said the new training space will be approximately 25 percent bigger than the current high school gym and will likely have a rubberized floor—though officials are looking into the possibility of turf—and there will be no bleachers as it is primarily a training area.
School Board Responds
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education member Zareena Koch asked Neilson where she found her statistics regarding a claim of how many students actually participate in sports.
Neilson said she calculated the numbers based off the listings in the school yearbook.
“Students have many many other interests besides what might be offered within the four walls of a building,” said Koch. “So, I’m looking at your information. I feel your pain. It’s a lot of money. And students have a lot of interests. I’m struggling with your statements that the students aren’t involved in this and why would we therefore build this monstrosity.”
Koch added, “Cause, frankly, I’m struggling with where your information comes from and is it indeed correct? Is it indicative of our district? When you make statements like that in public forums it’s challenging to find the root of where that information comes from.”
Koch asked if Neilson spoke with the school administrators regarding this issue.
Nielson said she did not.
Neilson asked how the fieldhouse would help dance or hockey players or other non-sporting programs.
Koch asked Nielson how she could know the new building wouldn’t help them.
“I think that you’re really going off on a tangent,” Neilson told Koch.
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education President Ken Schrader asked Neilson if the middle school was too old.
Neilson said some of the building is too old.
“Did you ask any of the teachers if they had difficulty teaching in that building because of the age?” Schrader asked.
Neilson said she wouldn’t ask that question because it is irrelevant.
Informing the public
Boyne City Public Schools Board members then discussed the importance of educating the community on the bond issue—especially informing them that there is much more to the potential ballot measure than athletics spending.
Little has said community groups interested in a presentation on this proposal, or citizens with questions or comments on the issue, should contact him at (231) 439-8190.
The board of education is expected to vote on a resolution regarding a potential bond issue for the May 5, 2020 election, at its December meeting.