By Jim Newell
The Lake Orion schools Board of Education is still in the information gathering and analysis phases of a proposed school bond that could go before voters in the Nov. 6 general election, though as of now, nothing has been decided.
The school district is working with GMB Architecture + Engineering, a firm that specializes in pre-bond surveys, facilities assessment and bond preparation. The school board heard the results of a recent community during its meeting on Wednesday, with most respondents giving glowing assessments of the district.
On May 9, the school board will hold a marathon workshop – from noon-5 p.m. in the boardroom at the Administration Building on Lapeer Street – to hear more from GMB, district administrators and consider its wants and needs projects lists.
Brad Hemmes and Tom VanDeGriend of GMB summarized the survey results, saying Lake Orion received overall “good” or “very good” assessments on nearly all of the questions.
More than 1,300 people responded to the 39-question community survey, Hemmes said, which asked questions about the district’s buildings, sites, programs and curriculum, including technology. Of those who responded, 92 percent had students currently enrolled in the district.
Hemmes said the surveys had “good representation from all of the school buildings,” adding it was a “red flag” if they see that a certain school’s residents are not responding.
“Your community feels pretty good about the job you’re doing as a district,” Hemmes told the board and district administrators.
A 34-question staff survey garnered more than 500 responses, most with “good” and “very good” assessments.
“I was pleased that we had such a good response. It tells me that people are interested in our facilities and programs,” Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said. “I was pleased with not just the responses (good/very good) but with the thoughtful comments.”
School administrators will meet with GMB architects this week to discuss walkthroughs and the survey results in greater detail. The school board has not made a decision at this point on whether or not to officially seek the bond.
GMB was the firm that helped the Clarkston School District pass a $75 million bond in August 2016 for building and technology improvements. Orion voters passed a 2-mill sinking fund in August 2016 that is anticipated to generate approximately $3.5 million annually over the next 10 years.
A bond amount, the length of the bond and which projects any bond money would be used for are still undetermined at this point, but more of that information should be narrowed down at the May 9 workshop and the May 23 regular board meeting, Ginopolis said.
Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald said if the school board does decide to pursue a bond it would not change the rate the district levies on residents.
“We’re not looking to increase any tax levies,” Fitzgerald said. “The debt levy doesn’t change.”
Ginopolis points out that school bonds and sinking funds are different and the money is used for different purposes.
“They’re two very different kinds of funding for schools. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge, for people to understand the difference between the two,” she said. “That’s what I’m hearing from people, who say, ‘Hey, you just passed a sinking fund.’”
Ginopolis added that once the school board decides for certain that it wants to put a bond proposal on the ballot and narrows down the amount and projects, the district would provide the public with that information.
The district hopes to have the bond documentation completed by mid-June to file the paperwork with the election board.