EPS community gives input on potential bond election

Published 3:07 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

EDWARDSBURG — A local school district is hoping to make important changes to its infrastructure with the help of its community.

Edwardsburg Public Schools hosted a community forum Monday at Edwardsburg Intermediate School to discuss the district’s plan to pursue a zero millage bond proposal. Parents, teachers and administrators were on hand for a presentation by Superintendent Dr. Courtney Szucs, who broke down the nuts and bolts of the proposal.

The proposed bond – still in its pre-draft phase – would allow the district to sell bonds and generate approximately $24.4 million with a zero-mill net increase over the current tax rate of 2.85 mills. As the name suggests, the 21-year bond would not raise taxes.

“I think the community was able to provide some really good input and have a general direction on where they want to see it go –  at least from the people who were here tonight – which is what we were looking for,” Szucs said. “We were really looking to help the community drive what direction they want to see the school district go because this is a whole community effort and we need them to provide their input so that they can make a really good decision with bond.” 

The forum was the continuation of a process that began in August 2023 when the district hosted a community feedback meeting to gather input gauging the community’s interest in supporting a bond to fund district-wide infrastructure improvements.

The safety of children in district buildings and classrooms is a key component of the bond process. Secure vestibules, office renovations and campus traffic pattern and circulation upgrades were among the proposed measures to ensure safety.

Using the information gathered so far, the district presented two zero-mil options to those in attendance. Option one, dubbed the “Orange Scenario,” would put the district on the path toward consolidating the district to one campus with the replacement of both the primary school and Eagle Lake Elementary. Additions to the high school would be the bulk of the bond issue’s proposed scope of work, with security and infrastructure improvements planned for all facilities. It would also provide funding to convert the former First Pentecostal Church property acquired by the district for early childhood education.

Option two, the “Blue Scenario,” would put the district on the path to eventually replace the primary school and preserve Eagle Lake Elementary. Additions and improvements to Eagle Lake and the high school would be the bulk of the bond issue’s proposed scope of work, with security and infrastructure improvements planned for all facilities. It would not provide funding for the church’s conversion to early childhood education.

Some of the other projects included in both scenarios are as follows:

  • Parent drop-off loop improvements at Edwardsburg Primary and Intermediate schools
  • Secure vestibule and office renovations at all district school buildings
  • Fire alarm replacement and access control improvements at all facilities

Following the presentation of the scenarios, a survey was conducted and a small group discussion was held for community members in attendance to discuss the two scenarios. Representatives from each table shared the results of their group’s discussion.

“Our table agreed that the Orange was the plan that we all agree with,” said Edwardsburg High School teacher Sean Jesse. “We like that it was shared throughout all the buildings; all of us do not want to dump money into Primary or Eagle Lake. The money should be saved and focused on potentially new structures.”

Jesse said that while his group believes early childhood education programs are important, the money put into the church building could be better used elsewhere right now.

“There are some major things that need to be fixed in buildings, even more so than the ones listed there and they’re probably going to take home money that is listed up there,” he said.

“With everything being run down, maybe fix those things and then move on to early childcare.”

Trustee Tammy Niemier said her group discussed the importance of marketing regarding the zero-millage proposal.

“The whole table was in agreement that the messaging is super important with the zero mils because once we lose that zero mils, it’s going to be really hard to get it back,” she said. “The messaging is going to be very important, which is challenging with the ballot language. That definitely is an area of importance for us to make sure to stress how important it is to the schools.”

Dr. Szucs said the school board would study survey and feedback date before determining the final scope of the bond proposal Monday, Feb. 5 and that the board would vote to approve the final ballot language and to file it with the Cass County Clerk Monday, Feb. 12. If approved, absentee ballots would be made available March 28 and the election would be held May 7.

Dr. Szucs said the district’s goal throughout the process is to be transparent with the community.

“The board really wants to have community input and I second that,” she said. “Without that, if the community was to come back and tell me a zero mil was a no-go, we wouldn’t have continued down this path. I think we’re taking the time to really listen to what the community wants out of our schools.”