Push on for Brandywine bond issue

By By JOANNA ARNETT / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A number of Brandywine community members made their way to the gymnasium Tuesday evening to hear Superintendent Dr. Gene Sweeney and other school officials explain the bond issue and upcoming election concerning Brandywine Public Schools.
The event was the kick off of the Facilities Improvement Election group's push to get information about the school, its need and the bond issue to Brandywine area voters.
Brandywine Board of Education President Michael Shelton addressed the crowd before introducing Sweeney, saying, "We really tried to listen to what people were asking for. Our real message for you is this: As you talk to your friends in the community, make it clear that a 'No' vote has consequences. A 'No' vote deprives Brandywine students the educational opportunities that their neighbors have. Not only that, but the 'No' votes will have a negative long-term effect on this community."
Dr. Sweeney added his thoughts which, though not too optimistic, are clearly from the heart.
A mill is $1 taxes for every $1,000 of property's taxable value, which only amounts to half of a property's true value. In March of 2001, Brandywine District voters turned down an 8.2-mill bond worth $28 million. The bond proposed this year would not exceed 4.85 and the amount is $14.4 million.
The bond issue would not have anything to do with athletics. What the money would be used for is strictly educational improvement, in the form of renovations made to Merritt Elementary, Elementary, and High School buildings to increase safety and improve the quality of education; improvements to infrastructure to save energy; create and update Science Labs, Technology Labs, and the Library; update facilities to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities; increased safety with bus and parent pickup and dropoff; portable and outside access classrooms will be eliminated for improved safety.
He added that if the bond does not pass, then he will meet the next day with the Board of Education and use $1 million from the fund balance to improve the buildings. The Brandywine School District, along with Edwardsburg and St. Joseph, are the only districts in Berrien and Cass Counties with no debt.
A concerned attendee asked about the future of athletics, to which Sweeney replied, "We just have no money for anything other than salary, school supplies and maintaining the facilities. The Brandywine Foundation is currently asking a private foundation for help in maintaining the athletic facilities. To quell the rumors, there are no plans to cut athletics. We would possibly cut the 'B' teams to save some money, but there has been no talk of cutting out athletics altogether."
Hebard &Hebard Architects, Inc., are working with the school on the restoration project. Their renderings for all three buildings were displayed at the meeting. One of the major improvements would be the removal of the California wing at Merritt Elementary, so called for its open-to-the-outdoors styling similar to California schools.
Sweeney added that felt that the public thinks that the money wouldn't go to what it was allocated for; therefore, they are hesitant to vote in a positive manner.
Sweeney said that he was not interested in 'No' votes.
The vote will be on Monday, June 9 at Merritt Elementary, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Citizens have the opportunity to tour Merritt and Elementary buildings today from 6 to 9 p.m.
For more information about the bond issue, call (269) 470-0194 or visit www.brandywinebrightfuture.com.

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