Brandywine school board approves bond proposal for May ballot

Published 11:10 am Tuesday, January 30, 2024

NILES — Brandywine Board of Education members have approved the ballot language for the upcoming May 7 election where district residents will be asked to approve bond issue proposal the district has been working on for the last several months.

That action along with the accompanying call to hold the election came at Monday’s school board meeting. The meeting had been postponed from last week due to bad weather.

Although there was little comment from board members during Monday’s meeting, Board President Elaine McKee did describe the proposal as a “zero mill increase” in recognition of the fact that the debt millage levy won’t go up from where it is now but will be extended for more years.

Board Secretary Holly Pomranka thanked all those who had worked on the proposal over the months by participating in surveys and attending forums and meetings.

“I want to thank all the people who helped us prioritize and make choices to better our schools,” she said.

As McKee noted, the proposal on the May 7 ballot will not raise people’s taxes but will extend the current debt levy of 3.9 mills another 18 years to 2044. Informational and advocacy campaigns are expected to start in February with the district allowed to provide information only and outside groups able to advocate for passage.

District consultants Jacob Kulhanek of the Christman Company and Tony Leininger of Carmi Design outlined the details of the project at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting. The projects they outlined would cost between $20.9 and $21.9 million to complete. Extending the current debt levy out another 18 years would bring in an estimated $21.7 million.

The major project at Merritt Elementary will be a gym addition which would solve the operational issue of the gym and cafeteria being in the same space. The gym addition is estimated to cost up to $1.7 million.

The bulk of the projects are scheduled to be done at the middle/high school with the Career Technical Education addition costing up to $6.75 million, the new performing arts center up to $9.5 million and the renovation of the existing CTE area up to $650,000.

Secured entries at all three school buildings would cost up to $275,000 each. Other middle/high school improvements such as a new baseball field, parking lot improvements and the track resurfacing would cost a total of up to $2.55 million.

If the bond issue is approved by voters in May, the work is expected to be done in stages with the CTE addition being done first and all the work completed by the summer of 2027.

The curriculum committee report and participation in the Berrien Energy Rebate Services Program were postponed to a later date as curriculum committee members Thomas Payne and Angela Seastrom were not in attendance. Payne was also planning to give some background information on the rebate program.

The curriculum committee meeting held Jan. 16 proved controversial with nearly 50 people attending the meeting and another 40 people watching it online. The purpose of that meeting was to discuss the possibility of the district offering the American Classical Curriculum developed by Hillsdale College.

Superintendent Travis Walker did answer a couple of curriculum related questions from board members. He said staff members hadn’t had a chance to look at the classical curriculum proposal and he hadn’t had any parents contact him to ask for it. He did say district staff are exploring possible new science curriculum for elementary and secondary students.

Monday’s meeting ended with a closed session to conduct Walker’s annual evaluation, of which he received a “highly effective” rating. Walker has been with the district for three years, one year as the middle/high school principal and two years as superintendent.

Walker started as superintendent in July, 2022 and had his first evaluation in November, 2022. At that time, board members gave him a positive evaluation and a “highly effective” rating as well as a contract extension through 2027.