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School district woes

July 30, 2012 - Linda Lobeck
With the bond issue going before Iron Mountain voters in about a week, I’ve been hearing both sides — people for it and those against it.

My personal feeling is that something needs to happen. I feel for the school district of Iron Mountain in their effort to provide good, safe facilities and needed technology. It was a similar feeling that I had concerning the Breitung School District bond vote in 2010, and the reason I chose to vote in favor of it.

When there are buckets out in hallways and rooms within school buildings, it’s reached a point where you can’t keep patching a roof anymore. When a district loses 70 percent of heat as it travels underground to other buildings, you know for sure that the boilers aren’t doing their job and are shot.

I no longer have children in school, but I have always felt that education is important. I voted for all requests that have come up in the past in the Breitung School District. I say that even though my children have never attended school in a district I pay taxes in. I believe that all children do deserve to be in a good learning environment where they can keep reaching their potential. And the physical structures — the school buildings — just like my home, need to be repaired and improved or else it’s not a safe environment for children.

With covering both Iron Mountain and Breitung Township school districts for a number of years, I have the advantage of knowing more about school financing than most people.

I got an e-mail recently from someone who felt the recent article I did on the bond issue public forum in Iron Mountain needed to include information on what has happened to school financing.

Unfortunately, the article was lengthy already, so I wasn't able to reiterate previous information about what is happening to funding for schools districts. It’s not a new story, but something that should be repeated. The state has continued to cut and not adequately fund schools for many years and it’s taken a toll on what the districts are able to do when it comes to improvements and necessary repairs to physical structures.

The general funds of the school districts are barely able to cover the salaries and benefits of the staff, buy books and supplies, and keep up with the utility costs that increase every year. Little money is left over for capital improvements, especially big ticket items like roof replacements, new boilers, and technology improvements. With the state revenue received by school districts unable cover their expenses, the result is that they have to whittle away each year at their fund balance. Most districts’ fund balances are now to the point where there isn’t much of a cushion left.

What I have enjoyed seeing since the Breitung School bond passed is the enthusiasm and excitement on everyone’s faces — from the youngest student to the administrators. I think they have done a great job carefully spending the money they got from their bond issue, and that's a good feeling as a taxpayer. The attitude is not just go out and spend it quickly, but rather evaluate and investigate each item. The goal has been to pick the improvements that bring the 'biggest bang for the buck' or the best return for the students.

I do hear what the people who don’t want to approve a bond issue are also saying. I understand that times are tough and an additional $53 to $100 on your tax bill is still hard to swallow. Senior citizens are especially affected by any type of fluctuation in their expenditures within the year.

Hopefully, the school district will be able to reduce the millage like they’ve done in the past with refinancing.

We’ve all taken a hit over the years with our income and school districts are no exception. But until the state wakes up and sees the damage that this is doing to our schools and children, we will be seeing more and more bond issues going before the voters.

It may not seem fair or right, but it’s the reality that we have to deal with today.


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