East Lansing school bond supporters say main goal is to inform, not persuade

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Students at Marble Elementary School individually work on classwork

Jonathan Shead

Students at Marble Elementary School work on classwork individually and wait for their teacher to check it over with them.

 

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.

Terah Chambers is a MSU professor in the Education Department who worked on the community bond committee

Jonathan Shead

As the mother to a kindergartner in the East Lansing school district, Terah Chambers says this bond issue is especially important to her.

“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.

Sarah Scott is the principal at Marble Elementary School

Jonathan Shead

Sarah Scott says her elementary school’s infrastructure needs to be updated to provide a 21st century learning environment for students

“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.”

Lockers at Marble Elementary School that have rust

Jonathan Shead

The Lockers at Marble Elementary School are filled with rust and deteriorating.

 

“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.

Marble Elementary School teacher meets in a small group with students to help with classwork

Jonathan Shead

Teachers at Marble Elementary School are concerned with the lack of small group meeting spaces in the building.

 

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.

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  • Andy Floyd

    For myself and many others, it has much less to do with the cost of the bond, but rather the choice of building configuration. In fact, I would posit that most residents already understand that major renovations and updates of our elementary schools are needed. However, our current student enrollment barely (if at all) justifies maintaining five elementary schools. I have been trying in vain to find any documentation that provides either the bond committee’s or the school board’s rationale as to how expanding to six elementary buildings will provide the most positive educational impact on our current and future students.

    In the posted minutes from the committee’s first meeting, it appears that anything other than a six school option was de facto eliminated from the very offset. Strangely, the bond committee’s final report still details many fiscally and educationally sound reasons to pursue a 4-school option, while offering little to nothing in support of a 5 or 6 school option. How the six-school configuration ended up being the committee’s recommended choice has baffled me for months.

    As I see it, there are still too few people who don’t realize that we can raise money to construct school buildings to our heart’s content but we cannot increase general fund dollars to pay administrators, teaching faculty, support personnel and maintenance crews in order to adequately staff said buildings. This bond proposal is essentially asking us to increase our structural (and general fund) footprint when current and future enrollment demands the opposite.

    Unfortunately, we are being offered a “choice” to expand beyond our district’s needs, which over the long-term will lead to: wasteful expenditure of precious general fund monies; the spreading out and isolation of our teaching staff; the creation (or continuation) of systemic imbalance in class sizes and offerings; reliance on increased numbers of non-district students to sufficiently populate school buildings; less flexibility in providing “specials” courses; and, ultimately, diminish the district’s ability to provide a quality education to all students (including my two young ones in a few years!).

    What a tragically missed opportunity! Sigh…

    • Nancy Schertzing

      Hi, Andy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Having gone through the previous school bond election, I want to share my perspective.
      East Lansing voters made it abundantly clear in the last election that they want neighborhood schools. The first citizens bond commission examined and recommended the closure of neighborhood schools other than Red Cedar, and the public backlash was fierce. Our community still bears deep scars from that process.
      This bond proposal honors the community’s strong preference for neighborhood schools, provides state-of-the-art facilities for your little ones and future generations and accommodates fluctuations in the student population over the next years. While no one can know with certainty what East Lansing’s resident population will be, these schools are designed to provide the optimal number of students matriculating through the newly remodeled MacDonald Middle School and East Lansing High School.
      While I respect your opinion, I don’t share your negative outlook about our district’s ability to provide quality education. On the contrary, I feel that these new buildings will enhance our educators’ ability to continue providing the excellent education East Lansing children enjoy. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

      • Andy Floyd

        Dear Nancy,

        Thanks so much for your informative response. I grew up in the Lansing area and have resided in East Lansing for over ten years and recall the awful mess that was the closing of Red Cedar.

        Having also taught for the past fifteen years in an adjacent district that had to close two elementary schools, I am especially aware of the terrible divisions such decisions inevitably create in a community. That being said, those decisions in our district had to be made and our district is both fiscally and educationally stronger because of it. In fact, we are flourishing. While there might still be some lingering anger and resentment about the choice of schools, most people have long since accepted the necessity of those sacrifices in order to maintain high-level educational programming.

        Even though the utterly botched school-closing process we witnessed here certainly created a more vitriolic atmosphere, I still feel the use of the bond to further consolidate would have been possible, since there were so many positive educational and fiscal impacts one could have presented to the community. I shared many of them in my initial post, although I have to give credit to the bond committee, because that is where I found them (final report, pages 16-17).

        I’m not entirely sure how the election results equated to a strong preference for neighborhood schools. I can say that this focus on “neighborhood” schools seems somewhat flawed when considering that nearly 25% of the students aren’t from the neighborhood (or even this district) and that (per the community survey) 70% of the students get dropped off by a bus or car before school and nearly the same percentage get picked up thus after school.

        Again, I don’t disagree that the proposed renovations will create a vastly improved learning environment for our elementary students (including for my little ones in the not too distant future). My concern lies in the seemingly single-minded focus on a six-building solution, especially in light of the predicted drop in enrollment at the elementary level (as per the projections posted on the bond website). None of us has a crystal ball to foresee student population fluctuations but why then bother with hiring a company to provide the estimates in the first place. Likewise, I don’t see why four schools couldn’t be constructed in a manner that would accommodate such fluctuations.

        I know that this is a community that values the quality of its school district’s academics above anything else. In fact, this was explicitly stated by the respondents to the community survey. Would that not lead one to believe that the community would be receptive to a proposal that would enhance the district’s academics while putting it on financially solid footing for the long-term? I live within walking distance to Marble; however, if you presented a convincing argument that my son’s education would be improved and the district in better fiscal shape if I drove him to Donley, well, we would definitely be taking a cruise in my old VW to and from Donley each day.

        I am not arguing that our district does not already provide a high-quality education or that it no longer would be able to based upon the results of the bond election. What is disappointing for me is the sense that there was so much more possible, and it is particularly saddening when seeing that this sentiment was shared by at least some people on the bond committee.

        Again, thanks for your response. Even if we have to agree to disagree, I truly appreciate your efforts on behalf of our students and their schools.

        Best regards,

        Andy

        • Nancy Schertzing

          Andy it is such a pleasure to have a substantive, civil conversation on this. Thank you for your thoughtful response. We also live near Marble and walked our little ones to school many mornings. Now that they are away at college I treasure those memories.

          Your points are excellent and well-taken. As you noted, many of them came up at previous citizen group discussions and were even included in their earlier recommendations. I can only say that this citizens committee put forth their recommendation and the school board unanimously adopted it in good faith that it was what our community would approve. While that involved some compromises, we believe this proposal provides more good than bad for everyone.

          The goal all along has been to provide learning facilities to match the excellent educational opportunities ELPS offers. While we may have to agree to disagree, I think we agree on more than we know. Your response was a welcome addition to my day. I wish for your children the joys and opportunities my kids enjoyed growing up in East Lansing.