The Saginaw School Bond Millage • Ninety-nine ninety-five …. Million that is!

One Hundred Million Dollars is Just Too Much!

    icon Oct 08, 2020
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Editor's Note:

As we approach mid-term elections, with the Saginaw School District slated to receive $41,384,805 in American Rescue Plan Funding, it is incumbent that we revisit this investigative piece published in The REVIEW two years ago about the $100 million dollar school bond proposal that was advanced by the Saginaw Board of Education.

Michigan schools will receive between $93 and nearly $28,000 per pupil as part of this federal stimulus that is infusing massive amounts of money into schools nationwide.  The figures are based on estimates released by the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. Michigan’s education system will receive $3.7 billion in funding from the stimulus, with $3.3 billion going directly to districts.

The Saginaw School District will receive $41,384,805.  As the facts and arguments contained within this piece establish, this money should be used to retire the $40 million bond payment from a 2005 millage adopted prior to the 2020 one-hundred-million dollar bond proposal that is still owed, and give taxpayers some much needed relief.

Fancy new brick-and-mortar school buildings that may never be used won’t fix Saginaw’s education system,  but will bring big profits to big businesses in the school construction industry.

The City of Saginaw SCHOOL DISTRICT PROPOSAL would benefit a few select architects, developers, and building contractors. These contractors take advantage of a well-meaning school board hoping to save our school system, and willing to throw your money at it. Lots of it!

Approval of this bond proposal would provide the school district with a 100-million-dollar line of credit for new infrastructure development (on top of the $40 million we already owe), with repayment secured by what amounts to a mortgage on every property in the city. Under State law, bond proceeds may not be used to pay teacher or administrator salaries, routine maintenance or repair costs or other school district operating expenses.

So, what does an extra hundred million bucks go for if it doesn’t pay more teachers?

The Bond Proposal (which will appear at the bottom of your ballot) states the 99.95 million dollars is for “Constructing, furnishing and equipping new schools, including a new comprehensive high school and a new Handley elementary school, in the School District; constructing additions to, equipping, furnishing, reequipping, refurnishing and remodeling School District buildings, including Arthur Hill High School for SASA and the existing Saginaw High School as a middle school, including classroom, auditorium, lighting and climate control improvements; acquiring and installing technology infrastructure and equipment; and; acquiring, improving and developing sites, including outdoor athletic facilities, playgrounds and structures in the School District.”

The City of Saginaw has schools that need many repairs, but when $100 million dollars is put into perspective the school bond proposal by far overreaches what the people paying the bills can afford. The Saginaw school district had more than 16,000 students in 1990. Saginaw’s population has steadily decreased over time, but now has declined below the 50,000 resident threshold that affects block grants and other programs. The school system enrollment has declined to 5,870 students, with numbers only expected to decrease in the foreseeable future, down almost 2/3 below previous enrollments.

Just 15 years ago voters approved a $70 Million Bond for Saginaw School for “remodeling existing School District buildings, including instructional spaces and safety, security, and energy conservation improvements; constructing additions to School District buildings, acquiring technology equipment, and acquiring and installing technology infrastructure; constructing a new elementary school building and a new middle school building in the School District; improving and developing sites, including playgrounds and outdoor athletic facilities and structures, and acquiring sites for school expansion; and equipping, furnishing, reequipping and/or refurnishing new and existing School District buildings and additions.

That money is already spent, and the School District superintendent confirmed that approximately 40 million dollars is still owed on the 2005 bond repayment over the next 15 years. 

The bond was sold as remodeling and upgrading SASA, but that only resulted in the new gym and theatre that were built in favor of Thompson (formerly Handley) and for upgrading security measures at entry ways at all the schools; rather than re-build all of SASA back then, they invested monies in addressing the security issue at all the schools. The school district closed North and many other schools in the past decade, and the fact is you could probably accommodate all the students in the district in one school.

In this age of COVID 19 schools and school designs are changing again – and quickly. This fall the school district adopted remote learning methods via computer to avoid spread of the deadly virus, complete with “zoom” classrooms. The district has already handed out Chrome laptop computers to students for remote learning and provided internet “hot spots” near all the school parking lots. Brick and mortar schools are not the schools of the future. Online learning is here to stay, and this can be accomplished by government or private charter schools in thousands of new ways that teach children and young adults without exposing them to bullies, drugs, and contagions.

However, the babysitting role that public schools have long served is lacking in the online education world. Child-care is expensive, and most working parents rely on public schools to watch their kids while they work. This is a balance that will need to be worked out over time, and Saginaw should wait and learn the lessons that will unfold over the next few years before they experiment with scarce money to explore the possibilities of the new paradigm of education.

To be clear – the School board members have chosen to seek 100 million dollars from city taxpayers to gut the assets of our school system at a time when enrollment is decreasing, population has dipped below 50,000 people, and taxpayers can barely make ends meet as is.

Saginaw is a community of poor people. Saginaw median income is less than $30,000/year. The average income per person is only $17,000. By comparison, statewide median income is $54,000 and average income is $30,000. Fully 35% of Saginaw city residents live below the poverty line. Over 42% of housing units in Saginaw are rentals, with typical rents exceeding $700/month. Renters Beware – landlords are going to have to pass every penny of the higher taxes along to you. Taxes paid for by property owners are passed through to tenants in the form of higher rents.

The school system is trying to take the easy way out of a systemic problem by taxing and spending their way through another decade or so, till they decide the next big idea and ask for more money. The easy way for them is not the best way for the people.

The campaign they are running is dishonest, inappropriate, and even illegal. Even the way they set the number ninety-nine ninety-five sounds like a used car salesman trying to mask the sticker shock of a ten-thousand-dollar price tag. 

Thomas Jefferson said, "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." It is the policy of this state that a public body shall maintain strict neutrality in each election and that a public body or a person acting on behalf of a public body shall not attempt to influence the outcome of an election held in the state. The public bodies act (MCL 169.257) makes it a crime to “use or authorize the use of funds, personnel, office space, computer hardware or software, property, stationery, postage, vehicles, equipment, supplies, or other public resources…” to run a political campaign. It is illegal for a public body to wage a political campaign for a yes vote on your dime, subject to fines and even 1-year imprisonment.

However, the school district just diverted tens of thousands of taxpayer’s dollars from their intended public purpose to try to gin up support for the yes vote to increase your property taxes. An exception to the rule allows “the production or dissemination of factual information,” and the school district has attempted to use that loophole to justify the expense of mailing a glossy 3-panel mailer to every household in the city clearly designed to elicited a yes vote November 3.

This often works for the big-education establishment and their private sector cronies like patronage construction companies and developers, but this time they made a mistake by literally misrepresenting the actual amount of the bond. Their advertisement claimed the bond amount to by 99.5M, when the amount is actually 99.95 million, meaning their mailer did not disseminate “factual information” but in fact disseminated known false information.

The School Board should not ask voters to approve $100 Million in new debt when they haven’t even paid off half of the $70 Million in bonds they already owe from 2005. The school bond is a bad idea proposed at a bad time, dishonestly presented to voters by using their own tax dollars to convince them to raise taxes on themselves. That is a rigged game, and the only lesson citizens should take from this flawed school plan is to learn how to say “NO” to the irresponsible government spending.

One Hundred Million Dollars is Just Too Much!

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