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Voters to consider GRPS bond proposal

‘Everything is set’ for issue to appear on Nov. 7 ballot

Grands Rapids — A bond proposal seeking a continued investment in Grand Rapids Public Schools is going on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The Board of Education on July 17 approved the language for the ballot measure, which would lengthen the district’s current tax rate in order to fund district-wide improvements. 

The proposal is the product of two years of strategizing, planning and assessing the school district’s needs. If approved, it would extend the current 3.85-mill property tax rate for up to 26 years, generating about $305 million over that period.

“This is a huge opportunity for our community and for Grand Rapids Public Schools,” said Leon Hendrix, executive director of communications and external affairs at GRPS. “If this bond passes, it means a $305 million investment that we’re going to be able to put into our communities, to make sure that our scholars have safe, healthy and healing environments.”

John Helmholdt, former GRPS communications director, helped develop the proposal with administration and community leaders. He is now consulting with the district on its Reimagine GRPS With Us! campaign — formerly the Facilities Master Plan — as president of SeyferthPR, a public relations firm.

No Tax Increase

Helmholdt said the proposal presents a unique opportunity for the district to fund major improvements without bumping up tax rates.

“This is really a limited-time opportunity where the district, with voter approval, could take the existing property tax rate of 3.85 mills and extend it out 20-plus years without increasing the tax rate,” he said.

The no-tax-increase bond would extend a 1.75-mill levy approved by voters in 2004 and set to expire next year; the impending expiration of the tax rate is why there’s a need to act fast, Helmholdt said.

‘This is a huge opportunity for our community and for Grand Rapids Public Schools.’  

—  Leon Hendrix, GRPS executive director of communications

The bond would also extend a 2.1-mill levy approved by voters in 2015.

The dollar amount attached to the bond has gone up since the Board tentatively decided to move forward with the measure in May. At the time, it was expected to generate $290 million, but Helmholdt said rising property values have boosted that figure past the $300 million mark.

“In essence, property values continue to go up, so that rate is generating more bond dollars,” Helmholdt said. “Based on that 3.85 and the projected property value increase, they’re able to capture more bond dollars than originally projected.”

Scope of Work

If the bond is approved, it would come in three series — or “tranches” — the first of which would be $105 million, followed by two $100 million installments.

The current plan is to allocate about $233.6 million to the construction of new facilities, additions and renovations. 

According to the Reimagine plan, about $29 million would go to consolidation, as the district is planning to shutter some underused facilities if the bond is approved. The specific buildings primed for closure are not outlined in the ballot language, as the specifics will be sorted out after the election.

The bond would also allocate about $12 million to auditorium renovations, and another $12 million for renovations to athletic facilities. 

Rounding out the scope of the proposal is about $7.3 million for technology improvements, $5.6 million for safety and security upgrades and $3.8 million for playgrounds. Food service facilities such as cafeterias and kitchens would also be a key area, included in the first $105 million series.

Hendrix said the bond is a crucial part of the school district’s plan to continue serving students at the best possible level.

“Kids deserve the best,” Hendrix said. “We want to make sure they have everything they need to be the best they can be. That’s what GRPS has been about for 150 years and this investment from the community means we can do that for another 150 years.”

Bond Events Coming Up

GRPS is planning a series of events to spread the word about the bond.

The Yes for GR Kids ballot committee — which is separate from the district — will host a campaign kickoff event from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Long Road Distillers, 537 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids.

Read more from GRPS: 
District moving forward with bond to reinvest in facilities
Advisory committee recommends demolition of Kensington building

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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