Residents react to APS’ $63M proposal

Is it ‘wrong’? Or is it ‘time’?

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Alpena High School, as seen here on Friday, is a big part of Alpena Public Schools’s planned renovations that will happen if voters approve a bond proposal in May. If passed, some of the new items at the high school would be an office in front of the school, an events restroom, and boys and girls locker rooms.

Depending on who you ask, Alpena Public Schools’ $63 million proposal to improve school buildings is either a much-needed investment into aging infrastructure or an unfair burden on an already overburdened community.

Reaction across the area was swift and split after the APS Board of Education late last month approved a May ballot proposal seeking voters’ permission to sell bonds. It’s expected property owners would see a 1.9-mill tax increase –or about $95 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house –to repay those bonds over 25 years.

The money would be used to upgrade facilities and security features at each school building and to tear down and rebuild much of Ella White Elementary School.

Many area residents were ready to step up, while others were turned off by the fact that property owners in the district are still paying down debt from the last major school renovations, begun in the mid-1990s. Last year, taxes to repay those bonds — that tax expires in 2021 – cost property owners 1.8 mills, but that’s expected to drop to 1.3 mills next year.

Property owners would pay a total of about 3.7 mills –or $185 for the owner of a $100,000 house –toward school debt if the May proposal is approved, based on current estimates. The tax rate could fluctuate from year to year.

Superintendent John VanWagoner said that, before the election in May, he will give voters information about the bond proposal, but, because of law, he cannot tell voters how to vote.

“I will be asking for invites and offering meetings at different service clubs and coffee and anywhere that anybody gives me an invitation,” VanWagoner said. “I’m hoping to have the opportunity to do that to provide the informational items of what the board has put out there and any factual information regarding the bond and the school facilities.”

‘GOOD SCHOOLS MATTER’

On The Alpena News Facebook page, people have voiced both their pleasure and displeasure about the bond proposal.

Hailey Black, who grew up in Alpena, said she has been eyeing the bond proposal as she, her husband and their two small children consider relocating back to Alpena.

“I hope folks can be future-oriented, because good schools matter to people searching for places to live,” Black said. “As much as we want to live back home, the reality is the infrastructure of APS is crumbling compared to a lot of districts by us. I know that it’s a challenge, economically, for the area. But what we invest in our children is returned exponentially to us.”

Facebook user Brad Nicoll, however, said he would like to see security involving at at least one armed guard or more before voting in May.

“If any lunatic tries getting into a school with a gun, I want a good-guy with a gun there to stop him,” Nicoll wrote on Facebook. “I’d like to see the details on the security that is planned before I commit to a ‘yes’ vote.”

Facebook user MacArthur Roger said “no” to the bond proposal and raising taxes because Alpena residents are already taxed enough. According to the county Equalization Department, county property owners paid a total of between 22.0601 mills and 40.2580 mills in state and local property taxes, depending on where in the county they lived.

Facebook user Sherrie Warren said “no” to voting for the bond proposal because it’s not fair to hardworking people who barely get minimum-wage pay and older people who are barely getting by on Social Security.

“We don’t get $12 to $15 an hour or a set pay each week, so no this is wrong,” Warren stated on Facebook.

‘BUCKETS IN THE HALLWAYS’

The district posted pictures on its website so visitors can see some of the structural issues within the schools.

Facebook user Anna Eisenman Meinhardt said on The News’ post regarding the pictures that she checked the photos online and it’s depressing to see.

“As a Besser parent, there are buckets in hallways when it rains to capture water from the leaking roof,” she said on Facebook. “The buildings are in need of repair!”

Kristin Braden, president of the Ella White Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, told The News in an interview on Friday that the majority of parents she has talked to are for the bond proposal.

“It’s time,” she said. “I went to school at Ella White and I have two children there with a 3-year-old who will be coming up and go to Ella White, so I’ll be spending a lot of time in that school. And, just being there, it’s a pretty popular ‘yes’ on getting a new school for Ella White. The possibility of moving is just not going to work, because our student-range is almost 500 students and to fix into Sunset (Elementary School) is not a possbility.”

Facebook user Steve Jakubcin said he has very little problem with paying $100 a year to help Alpena’s future but “the great news is that those who disagree, we both will have the opportunity to vote.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.