Ann Arbor voters approve $1 billion school bond proposal

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 1:16pm

Ann Arbor voters will vote on Ann Arbor Public Schools’ billion-dollar bond proposal in a special election Tuesday.

Ann Arbor voters will vote on Ann Arbor Public Schools’ billion-dollar bond proposal in a special election Tuesday. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Ann Arbor voters approved a $1 billion school bond proposal on Tuesday. The bond passed by a six-point margin, with 53 percent of voters in favor and 46 percent opposed. The 30-year bond will be used to make improvements to Ann Arbor Public Schools’ infrastructure, sustainability and technology.

In the first six years of the construction window, the bond will be used to add air conditioning, LED lighting, solar power, kitchens, outdoor classrooms, collaborative learning spaces and improved security to the schools, in addition to constructing the two new schools. 

In a statement to The Daily, Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift said the city currently has 32 schools, which are housed in 35 buildings that are an average of 63 years old. She said the bond plan was developed by various stakeholders in the Ann Arbor community. 

In 2018, AAPS commissioned an independent company to conduct a facility condition assessment across the district’s schools. The results of the assessment showed that while the schools are overall in fair condition, without substantial investment, many will fall into poor ratings within a few years. 

The assessment estimated it would cost $823 million to keep current buildings in good condition, not including other capital costs such as buses, technology, equipment and school additions, which is estimated to cost an additional $618 million. Together, the bond and the Sinking Fund, an Ann Arbor millage levied to aid in repair and construction of school buildings, provide enough funding to cover these costs. 

As Michigan is one of only about a dozen states that does not provide state funding for school infrastructure, many districts across the state also face the costs of improving aging infrastructure. AAPS points out in the bond proposal website that surrounding districts such as Saline, Dexter and Whitmore Lake have all started voter-backed facility upgrades in recent years. 

According to the website, Ann Arbor residents with a home taxable value of $138,000 — the average in the school district — will see annual tax increases of $228. 

The Ann Arbor Education Association, the teacher’s union in Ann Arbor, remained neutral on the bond proposal. AAEA President Frederick Klein said the union is trying to send a message that teachers are feeling neglected in the district’s school budgeting process. He said teachers have been taking pay freezes and are not advancing up the year-to-year salary steps, while watching their take-home pay shrink because of rising out-of-pocket costs for health care.

“It was more of a statement of position that the teachers took to say, ‘Hey, we want to also be a priority,’” Klein said. “You prioritize infrastructure and all that, which is essential. But you also need to prioritize one of the most important cogs in the wheel, which is the teachers.”

Klein said the teachers were not consulted when AAPS was deciding how the bond would be spent until late in the process. 

“They did not come to the teachers until the middle of September to seek our input and support, which is really just superficial at that point, because the vote was a month and a half later,” Klein said. 

While the union does not openly support the bond, the group is also not speaking out against it. 

“The union is not coming out and saying we’re anti-bond, we’re just remaining neutral,” Klein said. “Individual teachers, some will support it and some will not support it. It’s up to them to make those decisions when they reach the ballot box.”

The Ann Arbor Education Association is expected to begin bargaining with the district about financial issues on Dec. 11. 

Public Policy senior Bernadette King Fitzsimons attended Eberwhite Elementary School, Slauson Middle School and Pioneer High School. She shared some of the concerns voiced by Klein, but King Fitzsimons said while the schools were outdated, she did not feel they were a detriment to her education. 

“I do think the district needs to invest in infrastructure updates,” King Fitzsimons said. “But I think the district’s lack of investment in teacher salary over the years is deeply troubling, and needs to be addressed.”

Prior to the election, King Fitzsimons said she was not sure how she was going to vote. She said she was initially in support of the bond, but grew concerned that teacher salaries would not be raised along with the investment in infrastructure.

“In my time as a student in AAPS, the dedication of my educators impacted me far more than any state-of-the-art classroom could have,” King Fitzsimons said. 

Additionally, new with this election, voters were able to check the projected line wait times at polling places via the Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Office. The office is piloting an initiative to share the number of people in line and the estimated wait times reported by the election inspectors in real-time. 

Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry said in 2018, poll workers submitted line information to the City Clerk’s Office so the office could deploy more resources where needed. They decided to share that information with the public in Tuesday’s election so that voters could decide when to vote. 

“As a result of that work in 2018, we thought that this information made public might also be useful to voters,” Beaudry said. “So we will still get that information as poll workers are entering it, for us to react, but then the public could also use it to make decisions about when is a good time to go vote or just check in on things.”

In the future, the office is planning on implementing the virtual line checker for the 2020 primary and presidential elections. 

“If everything works as expected, and we see that it’s a positive benefit for the public to have access to this when there might be more chance for them to make a decision about when is a good time to get out (when they) don’t have a long wait, then in 2020 they could use that information,” Beaudry said.