Voters in the Grand Rapids Public Schools will be asked in November to approve a $175 million bond issue for building construction, technology improvements and upgraded security features to buildings.
The school board voted unanimously during a Feb. 23 work session to place the 30-year request on the Nov. 5 ballot. The move is a planned second phase of the district’s building improvement plan first approved by voters in 2004 when they okayed $165 million for renovations.
That round of construction saw new facilities and improvements at 11 elementary, K-8 buildings, middle schools along with major improvements to Houseman Field. District leaders considered asking voters to approve the plan’s second phase in 2008, but decided against it with the Great Recession looming.
Time is Right
Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said the time is right to ask voters for school improvements since the district has delivered on its efforts to increase graduation rates, test scores and stabilize enrollment. Weatherall Neal noted graduation rates and test scores have improved during the past three school years, attendance is up, chronic absenteeism down, and GRPS has become one of the few urban school districts in the nation to stabilize enrollment and return to growth.
“When I first proposed the GRPS Transformation Plan, I made it clear that we as a district have to demonstrate proven results before we ask the voters of Grand Rapids for anything more, ”Weatherall Neal said in a statement. “I am pleased to report that the Transformation Plan is working.”
She echoed the long-held belief of some suburban superintendents that the success of Grand Rapids Public Schools is critical to the success of the West Michigan region. She noted the second largest urban district in the state is key to the region’s ability to attract and retain talent, families and job providers.
“The future growth and success of GRPS is not just an education issue or a city issue,” Weatherall Neal said. “It’s a regional issue, an economic development issue, a workforce development issue, and a quality of life issue.”
While more specific details are slated to come out this coming spring, district leaders say about half the $175 million would be spent on major renovations to Innovation Central, Ottawa Hills, City and Union high schools. About $20 million of the bond would go for security and technology upgrades.
District leaders have used Buchannan Elementary School, built in 1963, as a classic example of a school needing upgrades because of its cramped conditions including two portable classrooms and outdated technology. It would cost about $15 million to replace that building.
If approved the bond issue would cost the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 a little under $100 annually, or about $8.33 per month.