Leelanau County schools may not get cut of school bond aid

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Leelanau County schools probably won’t see a cut of state Republicans’ $2 billion bond proposal, area administrators say.
Senate GOP members revealed a plan last week to use $1 billion to help school districts around the state pay the interest on school improvement bonds. The other $1 billion would help local governments improve sewers.
State officials hope the bond proposal will reach the Nov. 5 ballot. A two-thirds vote in the House and Senate is needed for it to be put on the ballot.
“It’s very difficult to raise money for school improvement,” said Robert MacEachran, superintendent of Suttons Bay Public Schools.
“There’s such a range in property value, some districts have a horrible time raising money. We’re kind of in the middle.”
Suttons Bay residents voted for a $5.1 million bond in 2000, but the district had to appeal to the community several times before it passed, MacEachran said.
In 2000, Suttons Bay residents voted for a $5.1 million bond to In the last decade, Suttons Bay, Glen Lake, Leland and Northport school districts have had to make significant repairs or new construction to their facilities.
The districts used the multimillion-dollar bonds to build new classrooms and auditoriums, and to make renovations in carpeting, paint, roofs, windows and electrical systems.
It’s repairs like these that save taxpayers money, said John Scholton, superintendent of Glen Lake Community School District. In the long run, he said, preventative maintenance increases the life of a building.
Glen Lake’s $7.2 million bond from 1991 has kept the district in excellent shape, Scholton said.
Northport Superintendent Richard Cross said communities generally react better to new construction than financial requests for facility maintenance and repair.
“Residents are more likely to vote positively when they’ll have a new place to go to, like a gymnasium or classrooms,” he said.
“Preventative maintenance to roofs, windows and electricity can be ignored by voters. They don’t see the result that they would with new construction.”
Northport passed a $5 million bond in 1999 to pay for the new addition to the school.
Engineers, business owners and people who manage buildings tend to be most interested in finding funds for school improvements, Cross said. “They understand that in the long run, they’ll pay less because they won’t have a tax increase.”
As part of the GOP proposal, school districts with approved local bonds issued after June 1 would be eligible to borrow all or a portion of the total bond from the state at a zero interest rate. Officials say poorer school districts would receive the most benefit from the plan.
A five-tier system would be established, with the state making the entire interest payment for the poorest districts, leaving them to pay only the principal. The state would chip in 10 percent of the interest on bonds to the wealthiest schools, and would pay up to 4 percent for charter schools.
State lawmakers representing school districts that have raised millages to help pay for bond proposals say the plan is unfair, only benefiting the poorest districts, leaving other districts like those in Leelanau County behind.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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