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Why the Tech Bond is Necessary

We have been fielding many questions about why it is fiscally necessary and responsible to pay for technology upgrades with a bond as opposed to using existing funds.  To help answer this question, we have invited board treasurer Judy Gafa to write a guest post to our blog.  For more information, please visit GPTechYes.org.


I wanted to take a moment and address concerns about funding expressed by previous letter writers. I will be reiterating what the superintendent of the district has already shared about district finances, but apparently it needs to be repeated.

 

In the fiscal year 08-09 Gov. Granholm slashed the districts 20j funds, this equaled $189.00 per pupil, that same year foundation allowance decreased by $147.00 per pupil. In fiscal year 09-10 foundation allowance was cut by $154.00 per pupil, in 10-11 it was $170.00 per pupil and in 11-12 it was $300.00 per pupil equaling a cut of $6.5 million in funding to Grosse Pointe Public School district.

 

As a district, adjustments and tough choices had to be made, the district staff stepped up and took pay cuts totaling 8.1% of their pay and are now paying 20% of their healthcare benefits. These are sacrifices that have been made to keep this district financially healthy. These are not easy cuts to take. Class size has remained stable and programs have not been cut, but technology needs were not seen as a priority at this time, and were not addressed.

 

Current fund equity is at $2 million, at the end of the fiscal year it will be $4.2 million. The district is forecasting a fund equity balance of $6.4 million in fiscal year 14-15 and $8.4 million at the end of 15-16. The ability to increase fund equity is due to district staff taking pay cuts, it is not because foundation allowance was increased. These dollars come directly from our staff.

 

Questions have been raised about the sinking fund, this is a tightly regulated fund directed by the state as to what can be paid for out of these funds. There is a 20 year plan in place for the maintenance of the districts historic buildings, these include but are not limited to, roof replacement, parking lot paving, bathroom upgrades etc. sinking fund money cannot be used to pay for classroom supplies, teacher salaries, or new computers. The bond expert did indicate that wiring could be replaced using sinking fund money, but then repairs to buildings would need to come from the general fund, which would then remove funding from the classroom.

Judy Gafa - treasurer of the Grosse Pointe Public Schools

 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

jeffjay January 04, 2014 at 09:38 AM
Chris, I can Skype with anyone in India on my iPhone without owning my own servers and creating my own infrastructure. All I need is a wifi connection. The schools probably need better broadband and wifi infrastructure, but apps now run in the cloud and storage is in the cloud. The only bottleneck is the connection to the net, which is provided by a 3rd party (ATT or whomever). The proposal for the tech bond is for obsolete technology and services. The improvements necessary to make the cloud run fast in our schools is a tiny fraction of the tech bond.
Brendan Walsh January 04, 2014 at 10:20 AM
So this means that between June and November, in the very heat of the technology funding discussions, the Board decided to shift $7 million back to employee compensation at a time when the same people are declaring an emergency relative to technology. ("Life support" was the term Dr. Harwood used.) This was a very poor financial decision and now the Board wants to increase the local millage rate from 10.08 mills to 12.29 mills (a 23% increase). Why doesn't the Board call this tax increase for what it is, a justification to increase employee compensation? Furthermore we have an admission that we COULD use some Sinking Fund money for some of these emergency technology projects. Or are you saying updating bathrooms is more important than student learning and safety? This was all very poorly thought out. Taxpayers in GP already pay a massive premium and now the Board wants them to bail them out for some really poor decisions.
Christopher Profeta January 04, 2014 at 03:53 PM
jeffjay, I agree that the 1:1 initiative is an important part of the plan, but the cloud simply can't support over 9,000 users. We need infrastructure upgrades as well. Brendan, you seem to concede in your above post that the bond will allow for tech upgrades without cuts elsewhere. I'm glad to hear you say that.
MaryLynn Bertetto January 04, 2014 at 04:19 PM
That isn't true. In just one year, the adobe cloud alone served over a million users. 9000 gp users, and all won't be on at the same time, wouldn't be insupportable.
Christopher Profeta January 04, 2014 at 04:57 PM
I trust the three teams of experts that have made recommendations to the.board. I trust the.experience they bring to the job. They have told us that using the.cloud alone with 9,000 users will run as slowly as things do now.
Judy Gafa January 04, 2014 at 05:20 PM
Contracts with all employee groups except for the classroom assistants were approved before June, the teachers were approved before the end of March. All staff, including administrators are taking a pay cut this year, sick days have been decreased, and larger contributions are being made to health care. What changed was the rebuild of fund equity, it will be at a slower pace.
Brendan Walsh January 04, 2014 at 05:47 PM
The June budget forecast showed a $17 million fund equity by 2016-17. The November showed $10 million. However you want to present it, thats a $7 million increase in salary, retirement, and decreased employee health care contribution. (I can show you the specifics if you like.) The point is that this was a Board created emergency. Not well thought out at all.
Margaret potter January 04, 2014 at 07:03 PM
I do not understand the new technology and all the jargon that comes with it. I have two thoughts on this topic:1 - Why is the vote for the mileage scheduled when all the "snow birds" are out of town and unable to vote? Or is there a campaign to get absentee ballots to our residents? 2-Why can't the private companies/industry take on the responsibility of teaching technology to our younger population? Maybe it is time to "look outside the box" to finance our schools; not totally from taxpayers but also from the private sector.
MaryLynn Bertetto January 04, 2014 at 07:36 PM
I think it is self evident why the vote is taken when older residents are out of town. They tend to be well informed and would easily see through the "emergency" created by the school board. They would demand that a better solution be found then purchasing 50 million dollars worth of soon to be absolete equipment and unnecessary "upgrades in phones & security.
Christopher Profeta January 04, 2014 at 08:38 PM
MaryLynn, the vote was originally scheduled for this past November, but during the summer a board member introduced a plan written by an anonymous source that had not been reviewed by the technology committee. This created a great deal of confusion in the community, so the board asked the administration to bring in a third party to reassure the voters. When the review was completed, it validated the administrations's proposal except for a few minor details. As a member of GP Tech Yes, I can tell you we have been working very hard to reach absentee voters, and most I have talked with are very supportive of the bond. As one retiree put it to the board a few months ago, our schools need technology in order to attract the young families to Grosse Pointe who will buy homes from the retirees. Margaret, what you are describing is the way the district currently funds technology. Thanks to PTO fundraising and grants from the Grosse Ponite Foundation for Public Education, there are several pilot programs running in the district. Unfortunately, this has created a system in which some students in the district, in the same school even, have access to opportunities for success that others do not. This is not fair to those families.
Susan Leithauser-Yee January 05, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Ms. Gafa & the Board deserve credit for tackling this critical issue. I believe that the district is badly in need of technology upgrades & support the expenditure for technology INFRASTRUCTURE ($16million). I am concerned that a) the increased tax burden may negatively impact marketability of our community. The Grosse Pointes already have among the highest millage rates in the State ranging from 46.7(GPF) to 53.2 (GPW). b) The proposal's scope is overreaching; b.i) Devices ($16million) must be made part of the OPERATING budget. They are a consumable item largely replacing textbooks. Thus, savings on textbooks (in the Operating budget) will at least partially offset the cost of devices. b.ii)$5million is allocated for security doors and cameras. I question whether this is an overreaction to highly-publicized, but VERY RARE tragedies. At least one former board member, who had long been touted as the Board's finance expert, has written extensively about a much lower-cost plan for financing critical upgrades. I encourage voters to consider this perspective, as well as the perspective of those conducting GPS official campaign in favor of the bond. http://www.brendanwalsh.us/2013/08/how-0-5-mills-for-grosse-pointe-tech-bond-would-work/ A final point; though the sacrifices made by GPS staff are real, as of 2012, GPS teacher salaries remained 30% above State average and 42% above national average. (according to National Center for Educational Statistics.)
MaryLynn Bertetto January 05, 2014 at 12:08 PM
Chris, a November vote excludes snow birds as well.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 12:26 PM
MaryLynn, there has been no effort on the part of the district or GP Tech Yes to disenfranchise anyone. Susan, you are correct that Mrs. Gafa and the current board members have done an extraordinary amount of work on this issue. I would encourage you to trust the numbers of our current treasurer and not the outdated statistics presented by former members. There will be several opportunities in the coming days to have your questions answered by the administration, and I'd encourage both of you to attend. Wednesday 1/8 at 1:00 at the Woods library at 5:00 at the Ewald branch, and 1/14 at 7:00 at the South library. I'll be at all those events, and I can talk with you more then.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 12:53 PM
Here is a link to even more informational sessions. http://gptechyes.org/upcoming-events/
Brendan Walsh January 05, 2014 at 12:54 PM
To be clear, the numbers I use are those posted on the GP School's website. If they are outdated, the complaint should be lodged with the district, not me as a citizen doing research. In June before budget approval the district posted data showing a $17 million surplus in the year 2017. In November, they posted the same report showing a $7 million reduction. I have both copies with the GPPSS logo on them if anyone cares to doubt me. The tax figures are also from the district and state websites. The district levies 10.08 mills today and are proposing a 23% increase via this proposal of 2.29 mills.
Susan Leithauser-Yee January 05, 2014 at 02:22 PM
Mr. Profeta, I follow a "trust but verify" approach to important decisions. My references to State and national statistics are from government databases. I do appreciate the district's efforts to have dialogue with the public, but since the presenters are all school employees, I can't expect them to elevate rationale that might convince voters to vote against the bond. When I worked for a large corporation, we were given "talking points" to share with the public. Sharing one's own perceptions/opinions was grounds for termination. The best decisions are made by weighing information from diverse sources.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 03:08 PM
When it comes to school issues, I trust school employees most. They are the trained professionals who understand the issues from the point of view of both educator and parent, resident and school employee. They are supporting an increase in their own taxes after having already taken a 9% pay cut and a 20% increase in their benefit contributions. They support it because it is their professional opinion that it is good for students and families, and as a college instructor and lifelong member of the GP community, I agree with them. My only point is that the numbers Mrs. Gafa is presenting you with are the most up to date numbers and are not being presented to you for any ulterior motive. If you read the discussion on this thread, you'll realize that as the treasurer of our board, she is simply giving you the data, not trying to preserve or build a legacy or defend a controversial contract. You are absolutely right that information from multiple sources is important, but we must also weigh the credibility of each source. Ironically, the biggest reason I personally suppor the bond is because it will allow our students access to diverse information and multiple points of view, helping them to become responsible and effective users of digital media and information. I think you and I likely agree on the importance of this skill and our schools' responsibility for teaching it to our children.
MaryLynn Bertetto January 05, 2014 at 04:40 PM
Chris, When it comes to school money issues, you trust the school employees implicitly? Really? They aren't possibly biased in any way? Also, I in no way agree that the schools should be teaching my children how to be responsible users of technology. It is the PARENTS' responsibility to teach their children to be responsible users of technology, not the teachers, school board or any other third party.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 05:07 PM
To imply that teachers are looking out for anything but the best interest of your children is incorrect. The men and women who work with our kids every day are the most effective advocates we have for Grosse Pointe children and families. If our schools do not offer a 21st century education, they may fail to be compliant with state and federal laws that require certain computerized tests, but they will also fail in their number one responsibility of preparing students for the world outside of the classroom. The residents of our community who work for our schools and have seen funding cut by $1 billion under bipartisan leadership in Lansing, seen their pay cut by the board, and seen their contributions to their benefits increased yet are still advocating for a bond that will increase their own taxes are biased only by what they believe is the best way to effectively educate children. The research on this is clear. Using technology increases information retention, graduation rates, test scores, class participation, it helps children with various special needs, it helps parents stay more involved, etc. If people don't feel this is worth an extra $15-20 a month for a few years, then they should by all means vote against the bond. Most of the people I talk with on a daily basis, however, don't feel this way. Most people I talk to in our community want to support their children's teachers with the tools they need to help them be successful. http://GPTechYes/resources
Brendan Walsh January 05, 2014 at 05:39 PM
Again, the numbers I am using ARE from school employees - the administrators. ALso, I don't begrudge Mrs. Gafa's arguments, but to claim she doesn't have her own motive is naive. She clearly makes a case to raise taxes because she claimed in this very article that Lansing made cuts and that school employee compensation reductions are the only reason why the district has any fund equity. Her ulterior motive, again that I don't begrudge, is to make a case to raise taxes. She's not just presenting data, as you claim. (Read the title for a clue.) I am making clear that it was the employees' very agreement, not a Board decision, that resulted in pay reductions and a massive reduction in fund equity to pay for raises in direct compensation, retirement compensation and retirement incentive. I'm not defending a legacy, I am giving a balanced view of the same issue that was not presented here and is being disallowed from being presented at any of the district forums on the topic. Readers can read more at www.brendanwalsh.us
MaryLynn Bertetto January 05, 2014 at 05:57 PM
Not taking someone else's word for something and wanting to check the information for myself, does not mean I think the teachers are not doing a good job. Please don't put words in my mouth.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 06:03 PM
If it is in the title, it is hardly an ulterior motive. She voted in support of the bond at a public meeting, as did all but one of our board members. The fact that there is consensus among our district leaders is a good thing and should reassure the public that the necessary work has been done to research the proposal. It is, after all, rare to have that kind of agreement. As for the LWV forum, there is no reason for them to give a stage to residents without a leadership position in the community. They are providing an opportunity to the public to ask their questions of the administration, it is not their fault that the administration and board are in agreement on the bond, and again, the consensus should be reassuring to voters.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 06:05 PM
And it is not just leadership that is in agreement, students, parents, teachers, retirees, and many more have publicly endorsed the plan. http://GPTechYes.com/endorsements
Judy Gafa January 05, 2014 at 06:34 PM
Let's clear up something's 1) I did not title this blog, 2) I did not advocate for anything in what I wrote, I didn't ask people to vote one way or the other. I simply showed how GPPSS funding has decreased over the years. The contract was voted on and ratified in March, again the classroom assistants did not settle until September. Hence no change in information until that contract was ratified. I also simply pointed out that the fund equity is increasing due to the staff taking pay cuts, and their increased insurance contributions. I have since been accused of manufacturing a fake financial emergency. I am not sure how that makes for a productive dialogue? Yes I support the tech bond, I have sat through countless meetings, countless presentations, asked questions, reminded people on my Facebook page about meetings during this process. Encouraged people to attend and participate. After all of this I felt that this was the right way to go, pure and simple. I heard from our staff, I heard from our students, I heard from the community, I heard from outside professionals. I have met community members to discuss this and attempted to answer their questions. All because I want to ensure that our students are safe, and get the education I was elected to make sure they are entitled to.
Brendan Walsh January 05, 2014 at 06:52 PM
Judy, you weren't accused of that, but you subsequently accused me of accusing Dr. Dean. I merely expressed my skepticism about fund equity decreasing $7 million since June, which you cleared up as being the result of a negotiated settlement that increased employee compensation and decreased their health care contribution. I expressed my concern that this was poorly executed given the district's claim of an emergency. The Board's decision made the problem worse by decreasing options. I consider this a productive dialog because people are getting multiple sides of the issue. And even though the title may not have been your choosing, the very fact that someone else read it and titled it as such is clear indication of how it reads. Your efforts are great. Others are making efforts to educate people as well and also care deeply about student learning and safety. One's support of the tax increase is not exclusive to those who care.
Christopher Profeta January 05, 2014 at 07:41 PM
Judy wrote a letter to the editor for the GP News and sent us at GP Tech Yes a copy. I asked her if I could post it to our Patch blog, she agreed, I wrote a blurb introducing it, and then wrote a title for the post. The title came from GP Tech Yes. If we are going to allow the debate to be turned away from a discussion of the enormous benefit this bond will provide for our students and community, and instead discuss blog titles, LWV forum parameters, and a general mistrust of school employees on the part of the opposition, then I agree with Judy, this discussion is no longer productive. I'll let someone else have the last word.
Brendan Walsh January 05, 2014 at 07:57 PM
Sure thing, Chris. Those are all things you choose to make this about, therefore it's unproductive for you. Here's the issue. GP is one of only 8% of all MI school districts to levy all 3 millages available to local districts (Hold Harmless, Debt, Sinking Fund). GP levies double the number of mills the state averages (10 v. 5). We already have the 28th (of 551) highest school tax rate in the state. This proposal would move us to 3rd. Our local tax yield per pupil is already 3rd highest in the state and 6x the state average. The district just 9 months ago would have had many millions more to fund technology w/this very high tax yield, but that was diminished by a recent Board decision which flowed more money to our great staff, but whose pay was already well above the state average. We could be using the Sinking Fnd for at least part of the proposal, but bathroom improvements are a higher priority based on current budgets. Now the district wants to hit taxpayers again when other districts are doing all the things tech advocates wants with much lower rates and tax yields. Instead of being more moderate under these circumstances, the district's proposal doubles down on spending. These are all very rational reasons for opposing the Board and admin's approach.
MaryLynn Bertetto January 05, 2014 at 08:17 PM
Thank you Brendan. Perfectly said!
Pete Spencer January 05, 2014 at 10:08 PM
Arguing about how we got to where we are right now seems pointless. The question before voters is whether or not to approve the issuance of a series of bonds to quickly and efficiently get the technology our students and teachers deserve in their hands and in use, as well as improving security and communications. Delaying bathroom improvements and pulling a few million dollars each year from the operating budget will simply not allow the district to make the improvements it needs. The upgrades cannot be done classroom by classroom, grade by grade, just so we can stay out of the list of the ten most taxed districts. If you cannot accept Grosse Pointe being in that list when it comes to school taxes, then you may have to vote no. If you believe that we can pull more money out of an already stressed operating budget to get this done even if it takes years longer to complete and greatly reduces the impact of the new technology on students, then you may have to vote no. I am considering what I currently pay for school taxes, what the schools need now, what the millage increase will be, and the the important and exciting changes that will occur in our schools for the benefit of all our students, and I am voting Yes!
Gloria January 06, 2014 at 08:17 AM
Where to begin with the comments on this thread. Anyone who has ever participated in a "League" forum knows they are not objective forums at all. The questions are heavily screened. Any person would have serious concerns about the bond would never have their questions addressed. The school district is only using the League in the hopes of giving the appearance of approval of the tech bond.(despite their canned disclaimer that they don't endorse things) while no doubt having it televised on the public access channel under the guise of the League. For those taxpayers who have been around long enough to see a $62 million bond passed and two sinking funds, we are well aware of how the game is played. Double down on the request and when it is approved start shifting funds. Did 1.5 million of the bond fund go to asbestos abatement? Did the school district build an 8 lane swimming pool at South (as was reported to the voters before a vote was taken) or a natatorium slated to house water polo matches. The experts who weighed in on this technology proposal are the same old experts, the ones who managed the construction projects and know how to hide the weenie. Voters should not be fooled again. This is way more than is necessary just based on the history of other bond requests in the Grosse Pointe district over the past ten years.

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