DITOR:When I was a graduate student at NMU, a very wise professor of mine, David Blomquist PhD; instilled in me the fact that "schools exist to meet the educational needs of its students."
With that said, on Aug. 7, the voters of the Iron Mountain Public Schools system will be asked to help meet the present and future educational needs of its students when they vote on the proposed $11 million bond/remodeling project.
Some of you, I am sure, are asking yourselves why on earth the school district, during these tough economic times, would have the tenacity to ask its voters to support such a proposal. As an Iron Mountain taxpayer I can understand and respect that thought. However, as your superintendent it is also my hope that by taking the time to help explain how the board of education, administration, staff, students and a diverse group of community volunteers came to this conclusion, you as a voter will be able to make a more informed and open minded decision when you go to vote on Aug. 7.
As a 1981 graduate of the Iron Mountain Public Schools and having spent the past 26 years as an educator, it was immediately apparent to me when I took over as the superintendent in 2011 that our school building infrastructure, technology, and classrooms were in desperate need of some major upgrades and repairs. Although the past and current boards of education and administration had addressed many of the challenges facing our infrastructures and classrooms throughout the years, it was also very evident that our current budget could no longer support the myriad of challenges still facing the District.
Having lost more than 500 students over the past 15 years (a loss of $3,557,500 annual revenue), the district had to concentrate spending its revenues in the areas of maintaining as many programs, small class sizes and personnel as it could. As a result the infrastructure, technology and classroom needs in our 350,000 square foot campus have taken somewhat of a back seat. This was never so apparent when we were forced last year to spend more than $100,000 of general fund monies just to address worn out heating pipes and boiler parts.
As a result of these challenges, the district decided to form a volunteer committee to assess the current and future needs of the school district. The committee is made up of a diverse cross section of our school system and community and has been very dedicated the past 10 months (often meeting 2-3 times a month) in an attempt to come up with a reasonable plan to bring before the voters.
After extensive reviews by our local architect and local project manager, as well as engineers (all parties non-paid unless the bond passes) and surveys handed out to all our employees and every student, the results strongly indicated the district was deficient in the areas of energy efficiency, safety, security and technology.
With this knowledge in hand the committee then had many discussions centering around what was necessary, reasonable and affordable to ask the voters to support in order to provide a more modern and safe 21st century learning environment for our present and future students. The final decision agreed upon was to concentrate on saving and renovating the high school and to focus on keeping North Elementary school and our technology needs up to date.
To build a new 4-12 grade facility would have cost well over $18 million. A proposal the committee felt was not reasonable and affordable when 43 percent of the district's square footage was already being underutilized.
What will $11 million provide a school district with that it already does not have or does not need? Answers reflect the BOE, staff, and student surveys as well the architects' and engineers' assessments.
1. Modern day heating (not steam heat that is currently pumped underground to 80 percent of the downtown campus and lighting systems (LED and light sensors) that may save up to 70 percent of the current usage expenses a year.
2. Additional and modern day security systems to all district buildings to make sure we can protect our students, staff and public as best we can in case of a crisis.
3. New roofs that will halt the continual leaks in our auditorium, central office and band room.
4. Larger classrooms (900-1,000 square feet) that will meet the experts' recommended classroom needs of 21st century students and teachers. This will enable students to sit at tables with chairs and break up into groups as opposed to sitting in extremely small desks which are more than 40 years old and also enable the district to better utilize its current space. The district's average current classroom sizes are 550-650 square feet.
5. Offices relocated to B floor of the high school instead of C floor which will enhance the building's safety and security. This was a major concern/request of staff, students and the public.
6. The ability to finish the auditorium remodeling project and honor those community members who have bought more than 300 chairs already as well as address the safety concerns our staff and students have expressed in regards to the stage and flooring.
7. Modern day technology (iPADS, smart boards, and flipping the classroom philosophy) into the hands of every teacher and student as opposed to blackboards, whiteboards and TVs that occupy all but one classroom in the district.
8. A Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone system that will save 75 percent on the current yearly phone bill and provide computerized phone capability (security, safety) in each classroom.
9. Bathrooms on three floors of the high school that are handicapped accessible as opposed to bathrooms on one floor only, which was one of the major concerns/requests of our high school students and a necessity to have a school within a school, concept, i.e. 7th-12th.
10. A school within a school (86 percent of the Upper Peninsula schools now employ this concept) by transitioning the 151 middle school students and four core middle school teachers into the newly renovated and modern day high school. This will allow the district to eliminate more than 65,000 square feet (the Central School) and save more than $100,000 annually on utility and maintenance costs. It will also cut down drastically the hourly foot traffic (security and safety) caused by the current middle school students having to come over to the high school daily to take computers, physical education and band. It will also enable the middle school students to be under the same roof with constant administrative supervision as well as more than 20 more facility members as opposed to moving them to the central addition (safety and security) and will enable the students and teachers to foster earlier relationships, as well as expose the students to more academic opportunities at an earlier stage of their careers.
11. A larger and more modern and up-to-date cafeteria system (more ovens, warmers and coolers/freezers) that will allow for independent menus geared toward DK-3rd, 4th-6th and 7th-12th grade students as well as provide for more whole grain, fruit and vegetable menus.
12. A safer and more modern playground facility for our 4th-6th grade students at East Elementary School.
13. The ability to operate and offer to our community two sound, safe and modern school buildings (the high school and North Elementary) in case county-wide consolidation becomes a reality.
14. Jobs for our local laborers and supply contractors with more than $8 million of renovations to be completed to the high school and North Elementary. The prevailing wage/Davis-Bacon law will be followed.
15. Modern, safe, secure and technically sound school buildings that will in turn help provide a 21st century learning environment for our present and future students and community.
What will the bond proposal cost the average house?
In 1991 (the last time the voters were asked to support a school bond proposal) the school district voters passed a bond proposal that increased their personal property taxes by 7 mills a year over 20 years (1991-2021). Through extensive refinancing the Board of Education was able to reduce those 7 mills to a current rate of 3.8 mills a year (thus being good stewards of the taxpayer's money as they will be moving forward).
The new proposal will cost the average Iron Mountain tax payer an additional 1.32 mills a year over the next 20 years which is still 1.88 mills less than the original 1991 millage. This increase on the average equates to $53 a year, $1,060 over 20 years and or about $1.02 a week over 20 years.
Furthermore, if the bond proposal passes the district conservatively figures it will save more than $200,000 a year on energy and technology costs. This in turn will help the district maintain its philosophy of preserving its academic and extracurricular programs, and maintaining sound teacher to student ratios.
If you agree that, "schools exist to meet the educational needs of its students," be informed, be open-minded, and be a voter on Aug. 7.
If you would like to access further information on the bond proposal please go to the following informational websites and links - www.voteyes4imschools.com; www.imschools.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; and www.mytaxcalc.com/ironmtn
My door is always open.
Thomas A. Jayne
IMPS Class of 1981