2013 Bond Issue Frequently Asked Questions
The Livonia Public Schools Board of Education formally approved the ballot language for a proposal to be put forward to the community for a bond issue that will fund important improvements and upgrades to our aging facilities. The school district will be seeking $195 million. This request will be brought to the community in an election on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. We sent information regarding the bond issue to you in January in the community-wide newsletter, Dialog. I want to take this opportunity to provide additional information about the bond proposal in a question-and-answer format. You can also find valuable information about the bond proposal on our district website at livoniapublicschools.org.
The following are some Frequently Asked Questions:
Why is the district looking at doing this work now?
The school district’s Shared Vision, developed several years ago through input from its stakeholders (parents, students, community members, staff), outlined a future for its schools, which included a statement that it sees a district that “benefits from facilities that are updated, well maintained and inviting; including cutting-edge technology and equipment.” The district completed an extensive facilities analysis (highlighted below) to characterize its current condition and from this it was determined that:
- School buildings are 40-60 years old, with many original fixtures and infrastructures that are aged and worn out.
- The district is falling behind in its ability to provide a high-quality educational environment and learning tools for students.
- Neighboring districts were investing more into their facilities and technology to keep them upgraded.
- New state testing requirements, mandating on-line testing, would require added capital investment.
Based on this analysis, it was deemed that additional investment into school facilities, above current resources, was necessary to meet the expectations set by the district in its Vision.
What types of projects are being proposed?
- Upgraded instructional technology for each classroom, including a wireless network and added mobile learning devices.
- Security improvements such as added surveillance cameras, upgraded entrance systems, alarm systems, and communication systems.
- Improvements to the fine arts facilities, including new high school auditoriums and related classrooms, as well as instrument replacement.
- Improved facility infrastructure, including energy efficient improvements to windows, doors, lighting, heating, and electrical systems.
- Improvements to restrooms.
- Other upgrades, including: plumbing, lockers, middle and high school kitchens and cafeterias.
- Replacement of buses and equipment.
Why did the school district choose those items?
LPS did a significant amount of research over the past few years to determine its critical needs. This included: a review of the facilities by internal maintenance staff and external facility experts; conversations through forums with community and staff members to develop criteria to prioritize improvements; a review of research on emerging trends in educational facility use and technology use; site visits to LPS schools and surrounding school districts; and study of future enrollment trends. A long -term facility plan was developed through these efforts and the research helped formulate a comprehensive, prioritized list of critical need items that would provide the type of facilities expected in our community for the education of its children.
What are the benefits of doing this work?
There are a variety of potential benefits from doing this work. First and foremost, it will provide a much improved learning environment for students. Research has shown that the condition of school facilities has a direct impact on student learning. These proposed upgrades will provide 21st Century classrooms with upgraded technology and space utilization, while also improving air quality, temperature control, and lighting. In addition, the schools will save money by being more energy efficient and reducing repair and maintenance costs while being more environmentally “green.” School safety will also be enhanced.
All of this will make our school district more competitive with surrounding communities and, consequently, more attractive to current and future residents, which helps to maintain and improve home values.
When was the last time the district asked the community for a bond?
In 2000, LPS requested a bond to update its athletic facilities. Prior to that, in 1992, the school district requested a bond to put in the first wave of technology and to upgrade the library media centers. Currently, the school district levies 2.2 mills to pay off those bond issues, making LPS one of the lowest -taxed school districts among surrounding communities for bonded debt.
$195 million seems to be a large request. Why so much?
As noted in the previous question, the school district has asked the community for relatively little, compared to surrounding communities, to upgrade its schools through bonded debt. This, combined with our facilities being 40-60 years old with a lot of original building structure, created the need for a major investment for the renovation of LPS facilities. In addition, we have a very large district, as we maintain over 3 million square feet of facility space. To illustrate this, the district compared its request to Brighton Schools’ recently approved bond request. Brighton’s $88 million bond equated to a cost of $75 per square foot. The LPS request equates to $69 per square foot.
Doesn’t the school district have a sinking fund millage to improve its facilities?
Yes, and the sinking fund levy of a little over 1 mill has helped the district to complete facility projects such as mechanical system replacement, boiler replacement, door replacement, parking lot improvements and the beginning of classroom improvements to a few schools, similar to what is being proposed now. But it would take another 40 years to complete the work proposed in this bond issue if the sinking fund was the only funding source, which generates about $5 million annually. This is why most school districts request bond issues.
Why did the school district choose a May election date?
There were both pro’s and con’s to a May election date that were considered. A May date provides a single ballot issue for voters to be informed about; it is held during the school year when there is more focus on school issues, as opposed to the summer; it allows the district to begin project planning in the schools during the summer months when they are not being used; it saves repair cost on items such as buses that must be ready for the beginning of school. Many of the reasons above have made May the most popular date for school bond elections across the state. An August election is a viable date as it is the normal primary date and would possibly save the school district election costs if there are enough city council candidates that would require a primary election. Voter turnout for past school financial issues has exceeded August primary voter turnout, making any of the four allowable dates for an election viable.
Tell me a little more about the technology improvements.
We plan to upgrade each classroom in the district with a multimedia projector connected to a new computer station and document camera. This, along with added mobile devices and a wireless network, will make each school a place for learning anytime, anywhere. These improvements will bring technology to life in the classroom. Learning opportunities will be at the fingertips of each teacher, as they utilize the ever-growing amount of online resources, including lessons, interactive activities, research, and instructional materials. In addition, existing computers and printers will be replaced. LPS will also be able to meet Michigan’s new state online testing requirements through the upgrade of our school technology resources. Lastly, we will improve the existing technology infrastructure (network and connectivity devices) to increase reliability and functionality, so learning is not interrupted.
Tell me a little more about the cost savings, energy improvements and “green” upgrades.
Currently, a great deal of time and effort is spent by our maintenance staff to keep existing heating, lighting, plumbing, and electrical systems running, as much of it is outdated and even part of the original facility. Repair parts are expensive and sometimes no longer available. Upgrading these systems will reduce material costs and free up time for maintenance staff to focus on other important work, thereby saving the district both money and labor. In addition, improved lighting and heating control systems, along with plumbing upgrades, will reduce energy usage and related cost. Lastly, new windows and exterior doors will include the latest energy efficient design. All of these items are good for the budget and good for the environment.
Tell me a little more about proposed security improvements.
We currently have a variety of security measures in place to ensure a safe environment at school, including surveillance cameras, card access systems at certain doors, and a door bell ring-in system at our elementary and middle schools. We would like to enhance our current equipment by putting cameras in areas where camera coverage is currently not available. We would also like to increase card access points to include more locations at each of our schools to create more secured entrance areas. We also plan to improve our communication systems within the buildings for announcements into classrooms and hallways. We plan to upgrade our phone system to meet new enhanced 911 calling requirements. This allows authorities to identify the exact room from which a call is made. Lastly, we will evaluate the most up-to-date and effective security technology to determine which items, within security budget allocations, will best meet our security needs.
Why are you choosing to upgrade the fine arts areas of the high schools?
As we look at the major areas for student use at our high schools over the years, we note that the library media centers were upgraded in 1992 and high school athletic facilities were updated in 2000. While we have done some work to the high school auditoriums, much of the structure is original. As we compare LPS to other school districts, this is a highly used area that is not comparable to schools around us. The auditoriums not only house a variety of fine arts performances, they are also utilized for school-wide activities and used by parents, students, and K-12 schools across the district. This upgrade would put us in a position where we have updated all major areas in each of our three high schools. In our long-term facility plan, which was developed with feedback from staff and community members, the fine arts area was identified as a high priority area for improvement.
Are you going to make improvements to schools and then end up not needing those schools in the future?
We completed enrollment trend projections to answer that question. In grades 5-12, projections show a need for all the existing facilities into the near future. There is a possibility that not all K-4 schools will be at capacity in the future. If that occurs, the school district will be able to move programs from one of its non K-12 schools, allowing us to defer any upgrades to those schools. Since the district closed several schools seven years ago, we are maximizing capacity usage which will save a significant amount of work.
Will any of these funds go to operational costs, such as salaries?
No. Bond expenditures cannot be used for maintenance costs; teacher, administrator or employee salaries; or other operating expenses. Bond proceeds must also be audited by an outside entity.
How much will this cost me?
For the average home in Livonia of $132,000, it will cost about $13 a month or $158 per year. We have a page on our website where you can find out how to estimate your costs. Go to www.livoniapublicschools.org and on the left side of the webpage under Quick Links select Bond Issue Information, then select the second link on that page which is labeled Millage Rate and Taxpayer Cost.
How long will it take to complete the project?
Our plan is to complete the work over a five-year period. We also set a goal to begin work in some form at every school within the first two years.
Won’t some of the purchases be obsolete or past their useful life by the time the bond is paid off?
Requirements for bond issues outline that the average useful life (how long items are expected to last) of all renovations to schools and equipment purchased through a bond must equal or exceed the average maturity in which the bonds will be paid off. In our case, the average life of all the items in the bond is approximately 31 years and the bonds will be paid off in just over 18 years. These requirements exist so items such as buses, technology, or building renovations purchased through bond financing will, in aggregate, last as long, or longer, than the length of time the money is owed.