By Chris Faulknor, Publisher & Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
Boyne City Public Schools could ask voters in May for a $26 million bond to help fund a $30 million school improvement project.
On Monday Oct. 14, Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education members held a workshop at the middle school, prior to their regular monthly meeting, to tour the middle school to inspect some of the learning spaces school officials say they hope to improve.
“We haven’t even had the board take a vote on this yet,” said Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little during a discussion regarding sinks in a science work area. “We’re very initial in a lot of those conversations.”
Potential Bond Proposal
Boyne City Public Schools Business Manager Irene Byrne said the school system’s current millage is 3.14 mils. In the year 2021, the millage would drop to 1.76 mils assuming the school district did not go out for a new bond.
“These are all estimates based on our taxable values going up between one and two percent,” she said. “That’s what we’ve seen now for the last couple years in our townships and our two counties.”
Byrne shared an example of what the school system could be looking at moneywise, if a new bond measure were approved, based on discussions with their financial advisors.
“If we were to borrow $26 million—we start out with the year 2020 because that’s when we’d be going for the vote, and then you’d get into the year 2021 all the way through the year 2026 we’d hold it to 3.14 (mils), so this would not be any increase to our taxpayers,” she said. “And, we would actually be sitting in the same situation. Right around that year 2027-2028, we’d be looking at already having to drop our mils on the $26 (million) borrowed new money.”
Byrne added, “As you know, with bonds, after 10 years you are eligible to refinance. That depends on the market at that time. Nobody can predict what that would be. But, that’s another opportunity … (for) lowering your mils or paying it off sooner.”
One board member pointed out that this would actually be a $30 million project, with $4 million coming from the school’s coffers and the other $26 million coming from the bond.
Touring the Facilities
During the tour, board members were shown class areas without enough room, equipment in need of replacing, and areas like the metal shop and weight room, which are located in places where they were not intended to go.
Bathrooms would be renovated across the school system. A number of classrooms would change location, including consolidating special ed classrooms into the same area, moving a counseling office and school nurse to a clinical area—expected to be constructed next summer—and overhauling spaces to make them more user-friendly.
Boyne City Middle School Principal Mike Wilson, who gave the tour, showed an open space at the front of the fine arts section of the middle school where a new area could be built to allow for expansion.
“I want you to picture a kind of a curved structure that joins the two buildings here so we would have the middle school and high school joined,” Wilson said.
The current proposal would turn the middle school weight room into a drama and music room, and the new structure would house a bigger and better workout area for both high school and middle school students.
The new building would also have space for storage and other uses.
“This is a big space,” said Little, who estimated nearly 150 kids and a number of teachers who go back and forth between the buildings each day. “Having that sort of secure envelope back and forth would be a big bonus.”
Little said, based on recent years of enrollment data, the elementary school is not in need of expansion at this time.
According to Little, beginning last spring, the board of education has reviewed administrative feedback on the matter.
Boyne City Public Schools currently maintains a total of approximately 302,000-square-feet of building space that services 1,459 students ages 3 to 20.
The following are the ages of the current school buildings:
• Boyne City Elementary – 41 years
• Boyne City Middle School – 58 years
• Boyne City High School – 18 years
• Boyne City Education Center – 58 years
• Average building age – 44 years
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education Treasurer Ross McLane said he was surprised how much of the bond, estimated at 57 percent, was to be used for costs relating to athletics.
“In other communities, has that sort of sports-weighted bond been successful?”
Little said he believes so and that every community has its own story to tell.
A number of meeting attendees said millages are often sought for a near 50-50 split of educational and sporting improvements.
“My fear here is new versus remodeling—are we making compromises?” McLane said. “And, the other thing, the big one for me, is when we did the $10 million bond, 10-12 years ago, we spent a year or two studying that and going out and looking at all these different sites and we’re spending three times that and we’re not doing any of that this time around.”
He added, “Are we giving it the looksee—I’m not against this.”
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education President Ken Schrader said the board is doing all the required due diligence.
“I’ll answer that—yes we are,” Schrader said. “This has actually been going on for a while and we’ve all had a chance to look at it and we’re going to have another two months to look at it.”
He added, “How long do you need?”
McLane said it isn’t how long it takes but that the process is important—specifically site visits.
Schrader said he’s heard for 10 years the school system needs more gym room and he is comfortable with the proposal thus far.
“My concern is for what we’re doing are we going to get to the other side of it and wish we would have done more,” McLane said.
Schrader said, “We’re going to second-guess no matter what we do.”
Little said there has been discussion on how much of the proposed project is “developed” to make board members knowledgeable about the project before the board votes as opposed to how much and what kind of information is shared after the board votes on whether to go out for the bond proposal.
“When I talked to the Whitehall superintendent I said now how did you take this to the voters? And this is only one community but it’s a very similar school district to Boyne City,” said Little… “And he said, ‘We just put it on as athletic improvements.’ I said so you didn’t show them a picture of it, you didn’t talk about possible uses. ‘No, we put it as possible athletic complex improvements.’”
Little added, “And, personally, I said, I would have a tough time with that.”
Little said the gentleman he spoke with said his board didn’t put out any details until after the vote on the proposal was had.
McLane said asking for the money before it is determined what all the needs are could result in plans being shared with the public that are incorrect and that that could be tantamount to selling the bond proposal on a lie.
“To a certain extent, I would think some of this conversation has to take place on the frontend,” McLane said. “This is our intention. I’ve heard that very clear but I haven’t heard how practical that is.”
He added, “I just don’t want to see us sort of paint a picture that isn’t accurate.”
While a decision has not yet been made on whether to seek the bond at the next election, informational meetings have been scheduled on the matter.
Boyne City Public Schools will host two community meetings at 7 p.m. on Thursday Nov. 7 and Wednesday Nov. 13 at the Boyne City Middle School Library to gather feedback from the community about maintaining and improving the school system’s facilities and equipment.
Little said that, at the November meetings, community members will be asked to offer their thoughts on the current state of the school system’s buildings and equipment.
“The Rambler community has a strong and proud tradition of maintaining quality learning environments for its students,” Little stated in a recent press release. “I hope that citizens will come and contribute to our understanding of what the needs are for the schools in the future.”
Little will also review the school system’s first public draft of plans for various improvement.
The board of education members are expected to vote on a resolution regarding a potential bond issue for the May 5, 2020 election, at their December meeting.
Prior to that, Little 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.