2017 ELPS Bond

We desperately need upgrades to our elementary school. However, the $93 million bond being proposed by East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) should be significantly reduced. If passed as is, it will contribute to the large ELPS class sizes, will pose administrative difficulties, and will expose ELPS to significant risk of an elementary school closure in the future. The main problems with the bond are…

1. The five new schools being proposed (on the Whitehills, Donley, Glencairn, Pinecrest and Marble sites) are too large for the ELPS population. Excessively large schools mean high construction costs, high operating costs (which are paid from the same funds used to pay teachers) and higher probability of a future school closure. In addition, not enough analysis was done in an effort to reduce the construction costs of these five schools.

2. Neither the school board, the ELPS administration, nor the community bond committee has the expertise to understand the financial tradeoffs associated with alternative bond proposals and, therefore, relied on the project architect, construction firm, bond underwriter and lawyers for guidance. These profit maximizing firms clearly have a large financial interest in the bond proposal and passage. Unlike many states, Michigan does not provide objective guidance on school construction projects including the process of selecting the project architect, construction firm and bond underwriter.

3. The bond proposal includes $10M to renovate Red Cedar without a viable, long-term plan as for how to use the space. The current thought to use part of the building to operate an elementary school with one classroom per grade and part of the building to operate a pre-K/childcare program (possibly in conjunction with MSU) involves significant programmatic difficulties, is very risky and will either subsidize relatively affluent parents with pre-K children or impose significant costs on the district’s general fund (resulting in larger classes).

I would like to bring attention to a letter written by Steven Haider - Haider Letter. Steven Haider is a colleague of mine in MSU’s economics department who was also on the most recent bond committee. While you may not agree with his recommendations, he has the training to understand the tradeoffs associated with different bond proposals and his letter presents some of these tradeoffs in a clear manner.

In the next week, I plan to write about my concerns with the current bond and actions the school board /ELPS administration can take to improve the outcome if the bond referendum passes. These include:

· Reducing the size of the five new schools by 2,000-4,000 square feet each and renovating the existing gyms at the Whitehills, Glencairn, Pinecrest and Marble sites. Use the cost savings to reduce the bond millage (and hopefully pursue a school district recreational millage which will supplement ELPS’s general fund - allowing for smaller class sizes).
· Putting the bond underwriting out for competitive bid.
· Putting the construction contract out for competitive bid.
· Suggesting financially viable long term plans for Red Cedar.

I will also provide suggestions on actions the school board /ELPS administration should take to ensure a better school construction bond referendum is proposed in the near future if the current bond referendum fails. These include:
· Putting together a bond committee comprised of local experts that do not have a financial interest in the outcome.

I hope Public Response will post my concerns and suggestions. I also plan to post them at Mike's Website.

Mike Conlin

[The information in this post is based on my research and represent my views. They do not necessarily represent the views of MSU.]

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April 11, 2017