By Megan Kelley
With the upcoming general election on Nov. 6, one of the more divisive proposals on the ballot is the Lake Orion Community Schools bond proposal.
The proposal is for a $160 million bond. This proposal is touted with a “no expected tax rate increase”, which would keep the millage rate at 7.491 mils, advocates of the proposal say.
One of the most prominent and vocal groups concerning this proposal is the Serving Our Students (SOS) group.
Led by resident Jake Singer, the group is a registered ballot committee and has the support of many other residents and leaders in the area, such as Birgit McQuiston, a long-time resident and current school board vice president.
“The Serving Our Students Committee is a highly motivated and passionate group of constituents who are working hard to communicate facts and information to our community for the sake of passing the bond. In doing so, we will be effectively improving the education of our students and ensuring a strong and vibrant community,” said McQuiston.
SOS’s primary goals are two-fold:
1. Provide children with an outstanding modern education in Lake Orion Schools.
2. Increasing property values in the district, which, they believe would be a result of better education.
Singer looks at this bond as an investment. If the schools receive the help they need to grow and thrive then Lake Orion will remain the destination district it has always been which, in turn, will cause more families to want to come to the district, increasing property values district-wide, he says.
If the schools do not receive the help they need to advance and keep up with the surrounding districts, such as Rochester or Bloomfield, Lake Orion will only fall further behind, causing more families to choose those nearby districts over Lake Orion and result in decreased property values, Singer said.
Upon another failed bond, not only would programs be at risk but general education would as well, they said.
“We won’t be getting better and if you don’t get better, if you don’t advance, in theory, you’re declining. It’s not good enough to stay the same as the world progresses,” said Singer, who is an uncontested school board candidate on the November ballot.
Both Singer and McQuiston believe that the best voter is an educated voter, no matter where their vote lies.
That being said, it is important to them that voters receive the “full picture.”
Lake Orion schools has proposed two bonds in the past eight years; one in February 2011 and one in August 2013. Both were voted down. Lake Orion passed a 10-year, 2-mill sinking fund millage in 2016 to help with some of the many repairs the district needed. The sinking fund is expected to generate around $3.5 million each year.
“The first bond failed, the second bond failed, we got the sinking fund to sort of band-aid some of the critical needs that were, quite frankly, liabilities,” McQuiston said. “The needs that are going on are building and building. They don’t go away when someone says ‘no’ they just become a bigger issue, so a lot of those needs were already identified.”
The input that the board gathered for this bond goes all the way back to May 2015 with the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee, which included two members of the board of education, staff, administration, parents and community members. This committee brought their suggestions of bond items to the board a few months later in December 2015. This was before architects were brought in to do their outside assessment in 2016.
While the question persists on whether everything in the bond is crucial, and if so, how crucial? Singer and McQuiston stress that the needs of the district were heavily assessed by many sources inside the district (Long Range Planning Committee) and outside of the district (GMB Architects and Plante Moran).
“Blanche Sims can educate our students, but it doesn’t do it to the best of our ability…Blanche Sims is a very good school but it’s not balanced across the district where all students are given the same safer and smarter learning spaces so it becomes an issue of: How do you balance that equality? But there are certain things like technology, you have to put money into more technology,” said Singer.
“We have crucial technology needs,” McQuiston added.
SOS strives to uphold the mission of LOCS throughout the district by providing students with a first-rate education and to prepare them for the challenges they will face throughout their lives, Singer and McQuiston said.
While LOCS has provided students and families with an excellent education that’s safe, strong and smart, they are unable to do it to the best of their ability because of the lack of funding, they said.
Singer emphases that these needs are not facts; they are merely the opinion of his committee.
“The property values…our opinion, we can’t prove it, we just strongly feel it. Kids learning better because they have STEM space…research shows that will happen, but we can’t prove it, it’s just our opinion,” Singer said.
However, what isn’t an opinion is that the schools are in need of adequate funding in order to maintain their current models. Nothing is free, even strong public schools.
“You can make cuts and cuts and cuts and at some point there is a tipping point where there is nowhere to cut – but then you start hurting the programming, all the while not keeping up with things that have already been, like the technology, that are already old and outdated to the point where we had to borrow technology and buy old technology [from Southfield] because it was newer than our current technology. That’s a problem, that’s all of our problems, and now we’re starting to impact student achievement,” said McQuiston.
“I am on a mission with this team to help get this passed because the schools need it. It’s time,” she said.