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May 4 bond vote would fund new K-8 balanced calendar school, tech ed center

Facility improvements would span all buildings

Kentwood Voters will consider a $192.15 million bond proposal Tuesday, May 4 that if passed will fund a new K-8 school for students who opt for a balanced calendar school-year schedule, a new Career Technology Education Center and upgrades and enhancements to all district facilities.

“We really are focusing on three main pillars in this bond: advancing excellence and innovation in our educational programming; enhancing educational technology and security; and ensuring student and staff health and wellness,” said Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff.

The bond, if approved, would not result in a millage rate increase, but would actually result in a projected net decrease of 0.25 mills, said Todd Bell, executive director of finance and business operations. The decrease is possible right now due to low interest rates, the district’s excellent bond rating, and increased commercial and residential property values in the district. The district’s current millage levy is 4.25 ($4.25 per $1,000 in taxable value), the lowest in the county, and would decrease to a projected 4.00.

“The district has long been a good steward of taxpayer funds,” Zoerhoff said.

Planned improvements would allow the 9,000-student district to meet long-term needs, Zoerhoff said. Enrollment has grown over the past several years despite a small dip this year due to the pandemic. 

“We were able to put together a robust bond proposal that addresses the needs over the next 10 years,” he said.

If passed, facility improvements would include:

  • A K-8 school that operates on a balanced-calendar schedule, meaning students would have more and shorter breaks throughout the school year, rather than the traditional summer break. For example, nine weeks in session followed by three weeks off. Enrollment at the school, at a location to be determined, would be optional for families.

“We have heard thatand data show there is a need. Some students do better when they don’t have that three months off,” Zoerhoff said, citing summer learning loss as a cause for gaps in learning.

  • A Career Technology Education Center, where students could spend part of their school day learning trades and a vocation. It will also be at a to-be-determined location.
  • Enhanced fine art spaces, including new music rooms at elementary schools, auditoriums, and space for high-school STEM initiatives.

The bond will also fund technology needs over the next 10 years, safety and security system upgrades and infrastructure. Because the $64.8 million bond passed in 2015 helped fund a one-to-one Chromebook program, the district was in a good position to teach students remotely when schools shut down last March to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The district was able to purchase more than 10,000 Chromebooks with those bond funds.

‘We were able to put together a robust bond proposal that addresses the needs over the next 10 years.’

– Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff

“If we hadn’t passed (that) bond, I am not sure we would have gotten through this pandemic together the way we have,” Zoerhoff said. “There is one thing this pandemic has taught us: you can never prepare enough for the unknown.”

Other bond projects would include:

  • Kitchen and cafeteria additions and renovations at all 10 elementary schools to allow meals to be made on-site for all schools.
  • Gymnasium additions at elementary schools
  • Playground enhancements
  • Athletic facility improvements
  • Restroom renovations
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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