By Pat Maurer
After a lengthy discussion Tuesday evening, the Clare Board of Education voted unanimously against a recommendation by Superintendent Doniel Pummell to select Kingscott as the architect to continue exploration of a possible bond issue for the district.
Pummell had reported on two meetings about pursuing a bond issue for the district, one with community leaders on August 4, and a second open to all community members on August 7.
There were some questions about a possible up to $15,000 fee for Kingscott’s services and whether the district would have to pay for preliminary work by the architects if the board decided not to pursue seeking a bond.
Trustee Sue Murawski asked, “Why is it necessary to hire at this point?” Pummell replied that, “It would help with community meetings, to engage people in conversation about the proposal.”
Board member Carol Santini said, “It sounds like we would have to pay up to $15,000 to hire Kingscott.” She said when the district put together the bond issue about twelve years ago; several bids were taken from different architects.
Board member Steve Stark said, “I want clarification on what we are going to agree to.” Santini added, “I guess I’m not clear on what we, the board, wants.”
Murawski said, “I want what the community would support.”
All agree, based on an audit by Kingscott last year, that the three district buildings need upgrades to bring them up to code.
At the August 7 community meeting to determine if there is public support for a bond issue, Pummell outlined some of the district’s needs, and presented some options for pursuing a bond to finance upgrades, buy busses, possibly a new high school or middle school and even a fine arts center for the school district. “Those that attended were very supportive,” Pummell said in an earlier email.
Four possible bond issues were outlined at the meeting with community members.
One proposal which would cost $39 million would be to build a new high school and upgrade the present high school for use as a middle school; repair the primary school; purchase busses and build a new performing arts center.
A second proposal costing a total of $24 million, would build a new middle school, repair the primary and high school; purchase busses and build a new performing arts center.
A third scenario, totaling $16 million would build a new middle school, repair the primary and high schools, purchase busses and renovate the present auditorium.
Repairs and code upgrades only to the buildings and purchasing needed new busses would cost $5 million.
An audit of the oldest district building, the 1930s Middle School, is the district’s top priority. The building has a need for a new heating and ventilation system; ADA compliant restrooms; upgrading power; addressing masonry issues, leaky windows and a deteriorating ramp at the entrance; repair of casework, the limestone veneer and soffits; metal doors insulation and lighting issues; and repair or replacing the roof.
Although two new busses were purchased last year and a used bus is being purchased this year, the fleet is still aging. During inspection last year, verbal warnings were issued on four busses, three of those regular route busses. The average age of the fleet is nearly 12 years and the average mileage on the busses is more than 133,000 miles. The fleet drives nearly 122,000 miles each year, with 90,000 miles on routes. It would cost an estimated $350,000 for four new busses.
Addressing the boards concerns at the Tuesday regular meeting, Pummell said she would contact other architects’ firms and hold additional community meetings on the possibility of a bond issue.
During Public Comment, former board member Al Demarest listed several requests to board members.
He said, “Keep your bonding request at a level that the taxpayers can comfortably support. Don’t schedule a special election date that challenges participation by senior voters. Please remember that a referendum vote is the voters’ opportunity to say no to higher taxes. Transparency and credibility are paramount.” At the August 7 meeting he said he felt voters would support a $5 million bonding issue to repair and bring the buildings up to code and buy new busses.
In another matter Tuesday, Pummell reported, “We have received a letter from the Michigan Department of Education that Clare will be home of the Early Middle College Program.
The program allows students to opt to attend high school for five years while earning 60 college credits while still in high school.
Pummell also reported that the Early Middle College Program will now have another option which opens the door to a lot of students. High School Principal Ed Hubel explained in an email, “The MEMCA (Michigan Early Middle College Association) requirements are that a student earns a Technical Certificate with at least 15 college credits, has 100 community volunteer hours and 40 hours of career exploration.”
A request from Pummell that the board consider hiring an assistant for Band Director Melissa Sapienza was also discussed by the board. Pummell reported that Sapienza had an offer to move to a different district, but wanted to stay in Clare. “We have one of the best programs around,” Pummell said. “It is a point of pride for the district.” She said the program has grown so much that Sapienza would not be able “to do the program justice.”
The consensus was that while the budget wouldn’t allow hiring an assistant for the band director this year, it could be considered later on. Board President Tom Weaver said, “We’ve spend out our fund equity for the last three years and this year will be using another $100,000. We are in a very tough position.”
Over 250 students participate in the band program.
Other business at the BOE meeting included:
*Consensus that the board likes the use of the Michigan Association of School Board’s self-assessment.
*Approval of the first payment on two busses purchased last August totaling $41,077.46 from the Capital Expenditure Fund.
*Approval to purchase a used 2014 International buss from Midwest at a cost of $68,320.00.
*Approval of an agreement with the City of Clare to put an AirFiber radio on the city’s water tower for better internet connection at Pioneer High School and Brookwood’s Athletic Field.
*Payment of bill totaling $191,832.55.
The board adjourned to go into closed session to discuss negotiations.