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March 26, 2019 1:14 am

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Local Voters Say "NO" To SPS Request For $50M To Improve School District

Voters Tuesday said no to the local school district’s $50.7 million bond proposal which was intended for major school building renovations, but did approve a second proposal, a sinking fund to repair and improve infrastructure.

The latter is essentially a renewal of the .5 mills ($0.50 on each $1,000 of taxable value) that expired at the end of 2017. It is to be levied for a five-year period - 2018-2022 - and estimated to generate $300,000 per year.

The sinking fund will help the district with infrastructure improvements, including replacing roofing, upgrading heating and cooling systems, and security and technology upgrades.

However, with the unapproved 1.17 mill bond issue, the district may miss out on the school officials’ vision for a 21st-century look and feel for some of its buildings’ designs: modifying hallways into collaborative learning spaces, a new middle/high school music and band suite, building alterations to allow for more daylight and outside views, outdoor learning spaces at the Douglas Elementary School, and so on.

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Saugatuck Public Schools (SPS) Board President Nathan Lowery told The Local Observer on Tuesday evening about the bond proposal.

“I feel the board did a great job developing a plan that would ensure the vitality of Saugatuck Public Schools for years to come. Unfortunately, we didn’t do a good enough job educating all of our community as to why it’s the best plan. The board will discuss next steps at our next meeting.”

The unofficial election results from Tuesday’s elections (Allegan County canvassers still need to approve the results) indicated that none of the communities that constitute the district — Douglas, Laketown Township, Saugatuck and Saugatuck Township— had enough yes votes from their respective community’s voters to approve the bond issue. The closest voting was in Saugatuck Township, with 338 yes votes to 369 no votes on the bond issue.

Overall, the sinking fund was approved by 968 yes votes versus 779 no votes, while the bond issue was voted down, 1,005 no votes to 719 yes votes.

SPS Superintendent Tim Travis was also asked for his feedback on the results.

“This bond election will give us the opportunity to broaden the conversation. The next part is to continue to get more input and more feedback from the facility committee and the community,” said Travis, hinting the district may come back to voters with a modified plan.

He said the Tuesday proposals’ objectives derive from the three-year effort by the district facility committee, comprised of teachers, board members, parents and school staff. The committee met with architects as well as hosted events and provided opportunities for public input for the district’s strategic plan.

The approved sinking fund, again, is essentially a renewal, but was not referred to as a “renewal” on Tuesday’s ballot because the ballot language included “instructional technology or school security.”

From a legal standpoint, proposal language cannot include “renewal” if the millage’s purposes are modified. This, although the district had a sinking fund millage of .5 mill through 2017.

“If both proposals are approved by voters, Saugatuck Public Schools would still remain in the lower third of debt and sinking fund rates (5.26 mills) in the area,” announced an SPS public flyer before the May 8 election.

Local Voters Say “NO” To SPS Request For $50M To Improve School District

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