Kenowa Vote Passes, Sparta and Grandville Also Approved

Aging buses will be replaced, and renovations made to Zinser Elementary School and other buildings, under the $55.24 million bond approved this week

Tuesday’s voter approval of a $55.24 million bond issue meant a lot to Ross Willick, not just as a principal but as the parent of two students at Zinser Elementary School.

For his children and about 300 other students, the decisive approval will mean a more secure entryway, new gymnasium, an eight-room addition and more computer devices. All will benefit student safety and learning, Willick said.

“It’s not an adult thing, it’s a kid thing,” he said, noting none of the bond goes for salaries. “It’s about the kids and what we can provide to them to give them the best learning environment possible.”

Two other Kent County districts won the support of voters:

Grandville sinking fund

  • Yes 2,435
  • No 757
  • The 10-year renewal will generate approximately $2.1 million in 2017 for construction or maintenance of buildings and other purposes.

Sparta bond request

  • Yes 1,130
  • No 1,063
  • $58.6 million in spending was decided by fewer than 100 votes from fewer than one-fifth of the community’s registered voters.The bond will be spent over the next seven years for the construction of a new middle school, secure entrances, technology upgrades and other facility updates.

Coming after two previous defeats — of a $78.6 million request last May and a $55.24 million ask in November — the approval was crucial for the 3,200-student district, said Superintendent Gerald Hopkins. Following November’s defeat of an identical proposal by a mere 23 votes, voters passed it this time by more than 1,000 votes, 2,799 to 1,723. Tuesday’s turnout saw 953 more “yes” votes than in November, and 853 more total votes.

“I can’t be more proud of the community for supporting the district,” Hopkins said. “We felt like we had the support all along. Showing up in numbers to stand behind our district, our students and staff is very much appreciated.”

He credited the dramatic turnaround to the district’s doing a better job of informing voters how the bond would affect teaching and learning, and “making sure our community was aware of what the needs are and why this was so important for the district, right now.”

The Kenowa vote was part of a sweep of tax requests by Kent ISD districts, including Sparta and Grandville.

The To-Do List

Raising the millage rate by about 0.99 mills, the bond will pay to repair and improve aging buildings; build new security vestibules, replace worn-down buses and provide separate parent and bus traffic areas; and upgrade technology including computer devices for all students. Without the bond, all would have continued to siphon dollars from Kenowa’s already strapped general fund, Hopkins said.

First priority will be to purchase four buses as part of replacing the district’s aging 32-bus fleet, which is owned by the district though drivers are contracted with Durham Transportation. Replacing outdated technology and improving computer infrastructure also will be high on the list, Hopkins said. A construction timetable will be put together, with work on the security vestibules slated to begin sometime during the school year, he added.

At Zinser, a more secure entryway is of key concern as well as safer traffic flow for buses and parents, Willick said. A new gym will improve physical education for students, who use the existing one for lunch, while more computer devices and more flexible classroom furniture will enhance their learning, he said. The eight new classrooms will accommodate nearby housing growth that will send more students to Zinser, he added.

“Just to see the community come together, and to have the team effort, is a huge stepping point for our community,” Willick said. “We would have been happy to win by one, but to win by over 1,000 – that was incredibly impressive.

“Every vote counts, and they stepped up,” he added.

CONNECT

Superintendent Gerald Hopkins’ letter of thanks to the community

Overview of bond-funded projects

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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