Editor’s update: On May 3, voters in the East Lansing school district approved a $129.7 milli0n bond proposal essentially renewing the same rate they have been paying since the adoption of a 2016 bond issue. According to the Ingham County Clerk, the vote was 8,960-3,639. That is an approval rate of 71%. This article, published in advance of the election, explains how the district plans to use the money.
LANSING — Amid crumbling walls and overheated classrooms, class goes on in Lansing, On May 3, voters will decide whether fixes will be made.
Of the 26 schools in Lansing, some might be completely rebuilt. All will have air conditioning. In addition, J. W. Sexton High School, built in the 1940s, will be getting what the school board calls a refresh, with new athletic facilities, a new auditorium and updates such as new windows.
A $129.7 million bond proposal would rebuild four schools, install air conditioning, and refresh Sexton High School. Democratic State Rep. Sarah Anthony is serving as chairperson of the bond committee.
“I believe this is a worthy cause,” she said. “I think that kids should feel as though they are valued and the community is supportive of their education.”
Anthony emphasized the importance of the Sexton refresh, explaining that the two other high schools in Lansing are newer and were given funds from the last bond in 2016. “Now it’s Sexton’s turn.”
Superintendent Ben Shuldiner explained how buildings were selected to be rebuilt. The four schools that would be rebuilt if the bond is approved are Mt. Hope, Sheridan Road, Lewton and Willow Elementary. The district went to the community, staff and students to ask what the district needed. There was a desire in the community for equity, inclusion, sustainability, and for the funds to be spread throughout the district. Architects then did a needs assessment of the buildings. Eight qualified for being rebuilt. Schools were chosen in every corner of the city so all communities could have a brand-new facility.
Shuldiner and Anthony noted that the community feels southern Lansing has been ignored when it comes to funds and development.
Updating the Schools
Mt. Hope Elementary in southern Lansing scored the lowest on this needs assessment. If the bond passes, it will be the first school rebuilt.
Mt. Hope STEAM and Sheridan Road STEM are outdated and do not have the capacity for specialized science classes. The superintendent hopes that with the bond these schools can have state-the-art technology to teach specializing in science and technology.
In addition to updating science and technology equipment, all the new schools will become more energy efficient. This includes better windows and doors. Also, buildings that are not fully ADA compliant will be updated.
Bond approval will not increase property taxes above the 2021 rate.It will replace a bond that is ending.
Basing this new bond after one from 2016, the district plans to generate $129.7 million. Lansing has the 4th lowest millage rate of surrounding school districts. In other words, Lansing pays less for its schools than the surrounding area does. Anthony said: “I always believed that Lansing kids are just as great as any kid throughout the region.”
She said this will put the district closer to its goal of an 85% graduation rate and 90% attendance rate. Shuldiner mentioned the empowerment and support that will come from walking into a new school.
Anthony said school improvements will be advantageous for the community as a whole. Even voters who don’t have kids have a role in what happens to them. When schools are refreshed, more families come to the better schools, and this attracts businesses. Great schools can lead to more economic development. As for cost, taxes will remain at the level that arose from the 2016 bond. The median cost of a home in Lansing is currently a little under $140,000 (via Zillow), making the median taxable value around $70,000. The seven mills in this proposal would cost the owner of such a home about $490 a year. It would not be an increase, but a continuation of the present taxes.
Anyone registered can vote on May 3, even renters.
Anthony, who is running for the Michigan Senate, says promoting this bond is a matter of getting the word out to the community. She said she hopes voters decide the kids are worth it.
Shuldiner hopes the four new buildings can be completed within 6-8 years. Air conditioning will be installed in the 18 schools within about the same time. Minor emergency repairs will continue on the old buildings as they are waiting to be redone.
“Lansing deserves great schools. Lansing deserves great school buildings,” said Shuldiner.
Voters can go to their regular polling place to vote. If the bond passes, the district will seek community input on design.
“Ultimately, people are looking for ways to support Lansing kids right now,” said Anthony, “This is a tangible way for Lansing voters to decide they want to do something.”