By LINDA LOBECK
IRON MOUNTAIN - With some time passing since the Aug. 7 defeat of the school bond proposal for the Iron Mountain Public Schools, members of the core committee and school board have had the opportunity to review the results.
If the district is going to move forward on another proposal, decisions will have to be made soon to two important questions - how much of a bond issue to go for and for how long.
The original proposal asked to borrow $11 million for 20 years, and failed by 46 votes.
Decisions have to be made within the next couple of weeks in order for paperwork to be filed with the state to put another bond issue before voters in February.
Each of the board members took time at a special meeting Monday to recap what happened, what they have heard from voters, and why they feel that the bond proposal failed.
Board member Jeff Michaud said that the two issues that he heard concerned moving grades 7-8 to the high school building and the other was why the district was asking for more money when they hadn't paid off the previous debt.
Board Treasurer Steve Brooks also heard that people questioned the decision about investing money in the district and why not just consolidate. Others were concerned with Central School and the plan to demolish it.
Board member Ed Mattson agreed that the main thing he heard was moving the seventh and eighth graders to the high school.
Board member Rob Langsford also felt that some of the voters who used absentee ballots might have not filled them out correctly. There were more than 130 absentee ballots from just the north side in the primary. In addition, more than 100 people showed up at the Immaculate Conception Church location to vote even though that precinct had move to Bay West Campus.
"I'd also heard that the movement of grades 7-8 was also an issue," Langsford said.
Board Vice President Mark Pontti agreed with the other board members as to what he heard following the election.
"There may have been too many issues packed into the request, and tearing down Central School seemed to be a theme, too," Pontti said. And some of the no voters asked why should they vote for a bond issue since their kids go to Kingsford?"
Board Secretary Lisa Basanese had heard that 20 years was too long for a bond proposal and that asking for $11 million was too much.
Board President Marv Harry also weighed in on the discussion noting he had heard comments about adding bathrooms to the high school, asking for too much money, and how the district was going spend the money wasn't clear.
Supt. Tom Jayne said he had nothing more to add to what the board members had said other than that they had solicited feedback from the public following the election.
"We needed to reflect on this and let them know that we heard them. We still face major challenges physically within the district," Jayne said.
As a member of the core committee as well as the board, Brooks said they tried to look at the district's assets to get to right size facilities to meet the student demands now and in the future.
"We know we have too much space, but how to use it more efficiently is a major concern," Brooks said.
Jayne agreed noting the school district has 43 percent underutilized space.
"We tried to see toward the future how we could condense and enhance the district best. It's a challenge to wrap the vision of our voters around this idea. And it's been 18 years since the school district has gone to the public to ask for any millage."
Despite not asking for any more millage during this time, the district has tried to do major remodeling projects and use school funds as efficiently as possible," Jayne said.
"This is a 4,000 square foot complex and we've been good stewards. The problems are too big now to be supported by what we have in the budget," he said.
The consensus of the group was that the amount requested for a bond proposal had to be lower, to $8 million to $9.5 million, the amount of the bond term would be need to be in increments of 12, 18 and 20 years, and the hurdle faced of moving the seventh and eighth graders into the high school would need be eliminated before going back to the voters.
Another hurdle in the past request was tearing down Central School, which would be eliminated from the next bond proposal.
But some improvements would need to be made to the building in the areas of heat, roofs and areas of egress. The Community Schools program would be looking at using the Central School for its programs.
A shorter bond term of 12 years would bring the two main school districts - Iron Mountain and Breitung Township closer to the same time where their debt would be paid off.
Harry said that 10 years is the soonest he could see either district starting to look at a possible consolidation.
"But during that time, our buildings can't wait for that to happen. We need to keep going forward," Harry said.
Brooks agreed. "Even with a possible consolidation in the future, we need to look at the long term and have two buildings that operate well. Our initial plan took that into consideration and based on our latest review, we would still need to operate two buildings."
Even with the data showing a decline in enrollments during the next 10 years, one district couldn't physically consolidate the students of another district.
"We still won't be able to fit physically into one district and will still need two functioning buildings here. We've done our homework on this and that doesn't even take into consideration another district entering into the mix. We still need strong, safe, secure and efficient buildings," Jayne said.
Although several board members still felt the movement of the seventh and eighth graders into the high school was the best plan, Michaud felt it wasn't possible due to the feedback that everyone had received from the first bond proposal election.
"Personally, I don't feel that it's worth the fight to do this. The reality of it is that we might lose students and it's not something we want to push into our next plan," Michaud said.
Mattson agreed although he noted that 86 percent of the schools in the U.P. have grades 7-12 in one building now. The seventh and eighth graders would remain in the new Central addition.
"Although it was the right decision to move them over to the high school when we went for the bond proposal, we might win the battle but lose the war. We want to make the best, safest choices for the students," Langsford said.
Basanese agreed. "The public voted loud and clear - people feel they should be separate from the high school students."
Harry asked the board members to digest the information they received on the different bond scenarios and they will hold another meeting on Monday, Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. to further discuss alternatives for a bond proposal vote in February.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.