EAST LANSING, Mich.— Supporters of the East Lansing school bond to renovate, rebuild and revitalize East Lansing’s elementary schools say they are not trying to persuade the opposition to join their side in the May 2 election as many would think.
They say their goal is to address concerns residents have and to ensure everyone is informed so they can vote knowledgeably when the day comes.
“I’m not out to convince anybody that they should support the bond — actually that’s not my goal at all,” said Terah Chambers, a professor with Michigan State University’s college of education who worked on the community bond committee. “I’m not in an opinion-changing position. I just want people to have information so they can make an informed decision about it.”
The proposed bond plans to borrow $93,770,000 to rebuild the five current elementary schools — Donley, Glencairn, Marble, Pinecrest and Whitehills — as well as renovate and re-open Red Cedar Elementary.
Sarah Scott, principal of Marble Elementary School, agrees that people can never have enough information when it comes to community issues such as this one.
“It’s important that community members are informed either way on the issue so they can make their best and (most) informed decision,” she said. “We owe it to our students and to our entire school community to at least be educated and learn what issues face the elementary schools so we can provide what is best for the students of East Lansing.”
Supporters of the proposal say providing what is best for the community’s youngest students starts with rebuilding the elementary schools to provide them with better facilities and a more vibrant educational experience.
“We’re not doing this because we want shiny new classrooms; we’re doing it because these buildings are way beyond their useful life,” said Chambers.
For Shannon Torres, 36, of East Lansing, having up-to-date school facilities was a primary concern for her and her family as they decided to move to the area one year ago. She said she is happy to see the school board and community addressing this issue.
“I support the bond because I think there’s a real need regarding the school buildings and basically I don’t think we can wait,” said Torres. “Having toured them this time last year I was pretty disappointed with the conditions of the building … they’re dark, they’re deteriorating and there’s not space for teachers to have small groups.”
“When you’re in them it just feels outdated and it doesn’t feel like a good learning environment or a good working environment for our teachers,” she said.
Scott added, “We need to look at our entire infrastructure and ensure that it is state of the art and also in good working order for kids and teachers. I don’t feel as if our classrooms are large enough for adequate learning spaces for the needs of today’s learners.”
Scott and other community members also say the proposed bond and rebuilding of the elementary schools will enhance the schools’ safety and security.
“The number one (priority) is safety and security,” said Scott. “We have to ensure that our kids, our staff and anybody else in the building feels safe, and our buildings are not designed with the issues surrounding school safety and security that we have now.”
Torres agrees the overall safety and security within the district’s elementary schools needs to be improved. She would like to see the schools be rebuilt with better entrances that allow staff in the main office to monitor who is entering and leaving the building.
While some community members in opposition say that these enhancements could be done with a remodel, which would cost 25 percent less than a full-scale rebuild, many supporters simply don’t think a remodel would address all the issues the bond proposes to fix.
“If there was a way to salvage those buildings, I would be in support of salvaging the buildings,” said Chambers. “But in this case, there’s not much to salvage and with a remodel we don’t get to do things like address some of the other concerns that teachers in these buildings have.”
Chambers realizes some issues, like safety and security, could be addressed “to some degree” with a remodel. However, if the school buildings aren’t completely rebuilt, many of the big issues facing teachers and students would still be present, including a lack of storage space or space for teachers to work hands-on with students in smaller groups, she said.
Konrad Hittner, who is the Bailey neighborhood president, explained he doesn’t need to be convinced that the community needs new elementary school buildings, but he does need to be convinced as to why a more expensive bond proposal (than the 2012 proposal for $53 million) could benefit all members of the community, including himself.
“A better plan that’s 80 percent more expensive doesn’t sound better to me yet,” said Hittner. “Maybe I could be convinced, but it’s going to take somebody to explain the numbers in a way that just hasn’t happened yet.”
While this bond does not address every issue community members are concerned about, several supporters said it is OK. For them, it’s not about addressing every person’s concerns, but instead about creating a proposal that meets the overall concerns of the East Lansing school community.
“I think this is a real compromise that addresses a lot of concerns,” said Torres. “It may not address every concern for every person, but I’m not sure what could be better.”
“There are people who have legitimate concerns about the cost,” added Chambers. “That’s fine. Not everybody is going to support the bond. I don’t think there’s a bond in history that has had 100 percent support for it. But I truly believe having gone through the process myself that the current proposal is the best thing for the state of the buildings and the direction of the district going forward.
Community and school members, both in support and opposed, are also invited to come and continue this discussion at any of the community forums being held in the months leading up to the vote.
Those meeting dates are:
- Feb. 27 : 9 a.m. at Marble Elementary School
- March 15: 7 p.m. at Pinecrest Elementary School
- April 11: 4 p.m. at Donley Elementary School
Visit the ELPS website for more information and to find out the latest updates on the school bond.