Last Community Forum Held on LAS Bond Request

Lowell Area Schools hosted a community forum Tuesday, April 16, at Cherry Creek Elementary regarding a bond proposal vote schedule for May 7. Previous forums were held last fall, and last week’s event provided district residents with one more opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts or ideas regarding the plan for facility improvements.

Millage Proposed with No Tax Rate Increase to Residents

In 2022, all of the buildings in the district were examined, and a list was compiled to detail repairs, maintenance and potential projects needing to be completed.

The current millage, which was passed by voters in 2019, made possible the complete renovation of the middle school, the new soccer/lacrosse complex, gymnastics safety improvements at Unity High School and repairs and renovations for all schools district-wide. This 2019 millage is expiring, and LAS is asking the public to approve another millage which will be on the ballot on May 7, 2024. The ballot request essentially extends the 2019 millage, and if approved, would maintain the same tax rate that property owners are currently paying.

Highlights for the new bond proposal are plans for renovations to the high school, the complete renovation of Cherry Creek Elementary, a new track at the high school, new playground equipment at all elementary schools and general infrastructure repairs and maintenance across the district.

District chief financial officer Sonia Hodge was at the forum to help the public make sense of the complexity that is school funding. She played this brief video put out by Kent ISD to help illustrate how school budgets operate in Michigan:

Hodge said there were two questions she heard most from community members:

  1. “Why can’t LAS use regular state funding for these projects?”
  2. “How can the district raise money without raising our taxes?”

The majority (about 85%) of general state and federal funding the district receives goes towards personnel (salaries, benefits, etc.), and the remaining 15% goes to everything else, including supplies, small building repairs and maintenance, utilities and buses. LAS also received ESSER funding during the pandemic. Hodge explained that while that funding was very helpful in addressing some of the learning loss that occurred as a result of the pandemic, it wasn’t enough to pay for things like renovating Cherry Creek or making major repairs to the high school.

Hodge further explained that the district uses bonds to pay for facility projects and that bonds are “…a lot like a mortgage. You’re receiving money with an agreement that you’re going to pay it back with interest every year.” She explained that Lowell has been at a 7 mil rate, and the district anticipates that “…by borrowing funds this year, it would continue to be 7 mils until about 2030 or 2031.”

Community Member Questions

One community member present at the meeting asked Hodge and Superintendent Nate Fowler, “What’s the long range plan? What’s the thing after this? When are we going to see, as a community, the millage drop?”

Fowler answered that the long range plan depends on many variables, including community growth. He said that this millage, if passed, would mean that most facilities in the district would be in good shape, but future bond proposals would depend on community needs. If rapid growth happened and Lowell needed to add an elementary school, for example, or if the community decided they wanted to seriously look at building a pool, the district may need to ask voters to pass another bond proposal.

Another community member asked, “What kind of interest rate do you anticipate?” Hodge answered that district financial advisers anticipated a rate of about 5%.

An additional question posed was, “What happens if the bond doesn’t pass?” Fowler said that if that happened, the district would probably hold another meeting to try to figure out why and try to figure out what they could change to encourage voters to approve a millage. Board of Education member Jen Dougherty, who was sitting in for the meeting, answered that, “…at that point, we’d just kind of have to Band-aid what we could in the meantime. We can’t fix and revamp the high school heating and cooling with the budget we have…”.

A parent in the audience said that he was thankful for the forum, and specifically for the video shown about school funding, because he said he really didn’t understand school funding before attending the meeting. . He said he thought that school funding as a whole was “…poorly understood in the community…and poorly explained to the community.”

Hodge mentioned the district website and said that they tried to have all of the information about the bond proposal there, especially when knowing that not all community members would be able to attend a forum in person.

The community member thought that a “ten-minute or less” video giving the basics about the millage — that it is an extension of the prior millage, that the tax rate would stay the same and detailing the basics of the proposed projects — might be “really helpful”.

Fowler thanked the attendees for coming and for the suggestions of communicating the complexities of a bond proposal to residents for the future.

More information about the bond proposal, specific projects and FAQs can be found on the LAS website.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.