ELPS Construction Bond

Anyone who has recently visited ELPS’s elementary schools understands why they require a significant capital investment. It is clear to me that an intelligent investment of capital in ELPS’s elementary schools would improve educational outcomes by improving the physical learning environment and, more importantly, increasing classroom resources/decreasing class size.

However, the information in the bond committee report, the community survey and the limited discussion by board members are not enough to move forward with a bond proposal because:
1) The bond committee was constrained to not discuss changes in K-5 population and the school board/administration does not understand the financial and programming implications of a change.
2)The committee report has no real analysis and few substantive recommendations, in part because most committee members had no knowledge of or experience with school construction or school funding. The same applies for the bond proposal recently discussed by the school board.

ELPS needs to understand the financial implications of different programming (like pre-school) and the financial implication of reducing the size of the student body. ELPS should not build or renovate schools without understanding who and what is going into them and how it will affect classroom resources. The school district must have OBJECTIVE EXPERTS analyze specific changes to the elementary school buildings. Proposing a bond that is not well-defined may result in an outcome similar to the failed 2012 bond referendum. Even worse, the bond referendum could pass and further contribute to the class size increases ELPS has recently experienced.

Without a plan formulated by OBJECTIVE EXPERTS with factual analysis of the financial and programming implications, the school district/board leaves itself open to the risk of formulating a bond proposal, similar to the one in 2012, that will be guided by those who benefit from the capital investment.
i) In 2012, the $53 million bond proposal included capacity for 4,100 students when resident enrollment had been decreasing for years and was currently slightly less than 2,700 students. The prior school board and administration did not seem to be aware of this unjustified expansion in building space and couldn’t defend why such an expansion in capacity was necessary. Citizens who FOIAed the district’s application to the state’s school bond qualification program identified this expansion.
ii) Because the school board was unaware and/or couldn’t justify constructing buildings for students we don’t have, the 2012 plans appeared to come from the architects and builders. The three biggest contributors to the pro-bond campaign were the construction firm, the architectural firm and a bond underwriter. Employees of an education consulting firm and an education law firm were other major advocates for the bond proposal.
iii) Even after the 2012 bond failed, the school board and administration moved forward with the middle school renovation, yet another example of a capital expenditure that was not based on a factual analysis. Instead, the school board turned more than 8 million dollars in our sinking fund over to the builders and architects, who, not surprisingly, proposed spending ALL of it on adding some open spaces and a very fancy 2 story atrium.

If the school board and administration do not consult OBJECTIVE EXPERTS to design a bond with the parameters that are best for our East Lansing students, one that builds to maximize the resources we have for teachers and parapros and support staff, it leaves open the possibility that history will repeat itself and the bond proposal will reflect what is best for those who can and will gain from spending large amounts of taxpayer money.

Mike Conlin

Note: This statement represents my views and not the views of Michigan State University.

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