Archived Story

District weighs bond options

Published 7:15pm Sunday, March 18, 2012

A sense of urgency permeated Dowagiac Board of Education’s three-hour work session Saturday morning attended by 22 school district leaders, including architect Scott Winchester.

An April 28 deadline looms to put a bond proposal on the Aug. 7 ballot, but what might be packaged into such a request continues to shift with new information from Lansing.

Due to Bill 770 state bonded indebtedness caps, the window of opportunity to pass a bond may be shutting for the foreseeable future.

Participants will email option preferences to the administration by Wednesday so a plan can be formulated for consideration at 6 p.m. April 9 — the first day back from spring break — with the school board rendering its decision on the recommendation April 16.

“I suspect there are misconceptions out there on what direction we’re trying to head in from the facilities standpoint because the plans have changed,” board member Mark Dobberstein said. “We need to drill it down right now to ‘this is the best plan we can put on the table with the information we have’ because the challenge will be educating a vast amount of people in a short period of time.”

“By June 2015,” Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel said, “we are broke if we continue doing what we are doing, so we have to do something, and I don’t see more funding coming to us. We thought we could use energy performance contracting to renovate (50-year-old DUHS), but we don’t have the general fund money to make monthly payments to make this K-3. That’s why we took a step back” from the May 8 ballot “to rethink this and really look at options.”

Cassopolis and Edwardsburg struggle with similar budget challenges.

Friday at a superintendents’ meeting “on the table was how do we share transportation countywide, how do we start looking at curriculum instruction countywide and how can we share Title I?” Daniel said. “Personnel is our No. 1 expense, so we have to reduce that somehow” to close a $1.2 million gap.

“Last year, our high school graduation rate was 79.1, but if you bring in Pathfinders, we’re looking at a district rate in the lower 60s. Cassopolis is very similar. Pathfinders has been a place where 54 students last year obtained GEDs (general educational development), which is important because students can go to community college, but it impacts graduation rate because GEDs don’t count.”

“We look to bring in more kids with Schools of Choice,” President Larry Seurynck said. “We’ve got all the kids we need. The problem is losing too great a percentage of them. If we create an education environment that engages them, they’re not going to want to drop out. We don’t have four high schools and 26 elementaries to try to get our hands around. Our ability to be nimble in making change is an advantage. We have to align what we do as a school with the needs of the kids and our community. This is education in America today. It’s not Dowagiac, it’s universal. Every district in the state is faced with the same conundrum of a fundamental shift.”

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