Objections to Farwell Bond Aired at BOE Meeting

October 14, 2019

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

During public comment at the Farwell Board of Education meeting Monday evening, three audience members spoke about their objections to the Farwell Bond issue that will be on the November ballot.

Dan Dysinger first thanked the board for the recent meeting on the bond issue. Then he said, “You know I don’t support the bond. I’m not a heartless person, I know the school needs a full three mills [in a sinking fund]. A different approach would be more responsible.”

In an interview Wednesday, he said the present bond request would raise $20.1 million. “The total cost of the bond will be $29 million including interest and fees, but the district will only be able to use approximately $16.5 million for renovations and improvements. I know that the school needs money but I would advocate that the board consider a three mill sinking fund (a replacement and improvements plan). A three-mill sinking fund over ten years (the maximum allowed) would raise nearly $14.5 million. A ten-year extension would raise over $33 million in total for the district. A sinking fund requires that the district have a comprehensive ongoing plan.”

Letha Raymond also spoke saying, “I appreciate and respect the board members and the work you have done and continue to do so. I simply don’t have the same level of faith that the November 5th bond proposal is the right direction for Farwell Area Schools.

She continued listing her concerns. “Number one is that the proposal is NOT a part of a fully developed comprehensive long-term plan. Yes we have some urgent needs, but going forward with this proposal feels like too big of a gamble…because it is not part of a well thought-out comprehensive long term plan to maintain and improve our facilities. Another reason…my second concern is our decreased enrollment. We are less than 1,100 student; our enrollment is 65 percent of what it was 17 years ago – down nearly 600 students; down more than 300 students since 2014.”

She said, “Enrollment is projected to decrease statewide. We have no reason to believe Farwell will be any different.” She added, “While I agree it is important that we take steps to attract school of choice students…, it is even more important that we acknowledge decreased enrollment and make sure that any debt commitment, whether it be 20 years, 15 years or ten years, is part of a comprehensive long-range plan.” She also said, “I firmly believe that it is teachers and programs that retain and attract students to our district.” She concluded, “I want to pay my taxes to support FAS…however I want to have faith in the decisions we make for the future. I am not convinced this proposal is our best option.”

Next to speak to the board was Ryan Blain, who also thanked the board and teachers “for what they brought to the table during the recent meeting. He said, “I am strongly opposed to the bond. I feel there is a much better way. I feel there is a lot of improvements in the bond proposal. I just don’t have the same sense of urgency.”

One example he raised was the estimated $93,000 costs for bus garage improvements and running a natural gas line across the road to the garage. “Three years ago DTE approached the board. It was never the board. It was never followed up. A price tag to do it was $1,558. The conversion of six appliances, a high estimate, was $2,000. For about $3,500 this could be accomplished. I’m struggling with the Johnson Controls estimate of $93,000. How did they come up with this?”

Tuesday in an email, Farwell Superintendent Steven Scoville responded. He said, “The November 5th Bond proposal that the BOE has asked the community to consider is a compromise created from two community forums in May and June. As with any compromise, not all parties get everything they want and sometimes they have to live with items they don’t want or like. The November 5th proposal does not address all of our needs; only the most critical needs are included in this scaled down proposal. The new bond proposal cuts off five and ½ years and 49% of the interest from the May 2019 proposal.”

He continued, “If we were to adopt only the sinking fund approach that some are suggesting, this year’s kindergarten class will have their diploma before they would have a playground that meets current safety code. Our problems cannot wait for the 10-14 years that a sinking fund would take to generate the funds necessary to repair our problems. The November 5th Bond proposal is one of the key parts of a long range facilities plan that the FAS BOE is in the process of developing.”

Business at the BOE meeting also included the approval of a FESA wage reopener and a (formerly) Teamsters wage reopener. Scoville said, As of Monday the second group was no longer a part of the Teamsters union but could be identified as “formerly called Teamsters” until they acquire a new union or decide to be non-union employees.

Scoville explained Monday evening that the step increase is NOT related to bond proceeds, which by law cannot be used for anything other than its purpose of renovations and improvements.

In a Tuesday email he said, “The employees of FAS have had their wages frozen for almost three years. Now that the State of Michigan has finally finalized the state’s school budget, the Farwell Area School Board unanimously voted to unfreeze all hourly employees’ contracts giving them a 1 step increase.” He continued, “The FAS BOE has hopes of being able to offer the same to their salaried employees. This offer does not make our employees whole, but moves them one step in the right direction.”

Scoville added, “The Farwell Area Schools are still funded at the lowest level in the State of Michigan, nearly $5000 dollars less than the highest funded schools in our state. But with the modest increase in the recent State of Michigan Budget and budget savings due to sound fiscal policies, the Farwell Area Schools were able to make this first step of restoration while also making a modest increase to our fund balance.”

Other business at the BOE meeting included:
*Celebrations of high school Students of the Month including Madison Forfinski (8th), Bishop Wilson (9th), Kylee Donelson (10th), Kaleb Dunford (11th) Thomas Taylor (12th) and Jasmine Brown (Timberland).
*Honoring Kyle Frost for his Eagle Scout achievement.
*Accepting donations; $531.90 from the Sports Boosters for the Athletic Complex, and $200. From Deborah Gadille, DDS for Special Education.
*Accepting with regret the resignation of Middle School Paraprofessional Crystal Music.
*The approval of monthly invoices totaling $246,796.65.
Following the regular meeting the board met in negotiations with the former Teamsters union members.

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