Nick and Joan Reichenbach could have moved anywhere in the country when they decided to leave their native Dearborn in 2004. Nick just needed an airport for his work with a computer company. Nashville, Tenn. and Boise, Idaho were on their radar.
They chose Rockford, largely because of its quality public schools.
Ten years later, they want to make sure that quality is maintained and enhanced by working to pass a $76.1 million bond proposal on May 6. The bond would pay for safety, capital and technology improvements without raising the district’s tax rate, because earlier bonds are being paid off.
As Nick Reichenbach sees it, he is inheriting the financial support Rockford residents have provided for 20 years.
“I would not be here had they not built a strong infrastructure for the teachers to do what they do,” said Reichenbach, the father of two Rockford students and one graduate. “It’s a great place to raise families. I would like to see that continue.”
“A big reason we moved here is that it’s a great school district,” Joan added. “We sought that out and we want to keep that standard high.”
So does Superintendent Michael Shibler. He has been talking to parent and civic groups since early February so voters can make an educated decision. But Shibler’s own feelings are clear.
“To keep the school district moving forward into the 21st century, why would we not want to do that?” Shibler said. “Why would we not want to give our students that opportunity?”
Improved Security a Top Priority
The request is the district’s first since 2008, when voters approved a $45.8 million bond issue. It did not raise the district’s 8.5-mill debt retirement millage, which has stayed the same for 20 years.
The district has maintained that rate by refinancing to pay off bonds faster and keep interest rates down, Shibler said. The 8.5-mill rate will continue if the May 6 bond is passed. If it fails, the rate would drop by 2 mills, which equals $200 per year on a $200,000 home assessed at $100,000.
None of the requested $76.1 million can be used for operating expenses and the district can’t afford the improvements without it, Shibler said.
Of the three major expenditure areas, the top priority is safety – an issue made more urgent by the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings.
“It’s unfortunate we have to do this,” Shibler said. “We’re in a changing society. We have to be proactive.”
Proposed improvements include:
- New entry way vestibules and buzzers that would force visitors into the front office before they could enter the building during class times.
- A film over entry doors and first-floor windows to make the glass shatterproof.
- Inside locks on classroom doors so teachers could lock them more quickly, and new technology to lock down buildings from the front office.
Enhancing Arts, Athletics and Academics
Capital improvements take the lion’s share of bond funding at nearly $50 million. Much of it is the largely unseen stuff of facility upkeep: replacing old boilers and roofs, fixing ceilings, buying 20 new buses, more energy-efficient lights and windows.
The 21-year-old high school auditorium would see a major upgrade of its sound and lighting and a new stage surface. New and improved music rooms would accommodate a growing band and new orchestra program.
On the athletic side, the high school fitness center would double in size and would be opened to the public during off hours for a “nominal fee,” Shibler said.
Two new large-group instruction rooms at the high school would host large classes and the school’s new concurrent college-enrollment program.
Finally, technology would be upgraded to keep pace with the fast-changing field. Computer labs would be replaced, devices installed in each classroom and wireless capability expanded to all classes.
Shibler is explaining the proposal to PTOs, booster groups and at coffees in residents’ homes. He hopes voters will continue their strong support of the past 25 years even as state per-pupil funding lags.
“We have to rely on the community on this issue, because they are our greatest resource,” Shibler said.
Joan Reichenbach said the request deserves support for her two children and the entire district.
“I want to know when my kids walk in the door that they’re safe,” she said. “And I want to know that they’re using the latest and greatest so they can keep up with kids across the country and the world.”