In campaign for school bonds, information will be essential

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Last week, leaders with Dowagiac Union Schools won the first victory in what’s sure to be a tough battle to come in its efforts to improve the condition and operation of its facilities.

The board of education approved the preliminary language of two bond proposals that, if passed, would raise nearly $40 million worth of funds for major renovations the district’s high school and elementary buildings as well as its high school football field.

The first proposal calls for a millage hike of no more that 2.5 mills, and contain the lion share of improvements to the buildings’ heating and cooling systems, security, roofing, electrical systems and accessibility needs; the second calls for a smaller increase of no more than 1 mill, and would finish out renovation work to these six facilities, as well as fund the construction of a new competition gym at the high school.

With the school board’s blessing, the proposals move on for approval by the state treasury, with the application expected to be submitted to Lansing by the end of the week.

From there comes the hard part for the district: getting the thumbs up from the district’s voters in November.

This isn’t the first time that the district has faced this scenario, either: in 2012, local voters shot down a $19.9 million bond proposal that would have funded the construction of a new high school building, by over 1,000 votes.

The memories of this defeat were no doubt at the forefront of Union School leaders’ minds as they took their second crack at a millage increase these last 18 months. The public has been heavily involved in the creation of these two bond proposals, which were crafted based on the feedback the district received from a public building survey.

While this will certainly give them a stronger chance at the ballot box in November, supporters of the bond proposals will still need to win over many residents who are more weary than ever of tax increases. With not one, but two proposals potentially presented in front of voters, the complexity of the district’s solution may even turn off people who would have otherwise supported it.

Any campaign supporting the bonds will need to focus on informing the public why both proposals are necessary for the district’s future. It will need to be made clear that simply voting for the smaller, 1 mill increase will not provide sufficient funding to provide the children of the district with what they need to learn in a safer and more comfortable building environment.

There’s a lot to like about the district’s building plans — we just hope that they are able to convince the voters of that fact by Election Day.

Opinions expressed are those of the editorial board consisting of Publisher Michael Caldwell and editors Ambrosia Neldon, Craig Haupert, Ted Yoakum and Scott Novak.