The Examiner

Mt. Pleasant School Officials Grapple With Prospect of New Bond

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Mount Pleasant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Guiney and Board of Education President James Grieco discussed a possible new capital projects bond on Jan. 7.
Mount Pleasant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Guiney and Board of Education President James Grieco discussed a possible new capital projects bond on Jan. 7.

Mount Pleasant school officials have begun the process of gauging public opinion to help determine whether they should present a second capital projects bond later this year.

The possibility of a new vote as early as late March was discussed at the Jan. 7 board of education work session. The meeting had followed distribution of a survey to residents that requested their feedback.

In November, district voters turned down a $55,855,000 bond by more than a 2-1 margin. The bond would have allowed the district to borrow for multiple infrastructure projects, primarily at the middle and high schools, including replacement and repair of ceilings, new lighting and the installation of heating and ventilation systems.

Last week Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Guiney said the size of another bond hasn’t been determined. The district wants input from residents through the survey, which will be accepted through the end of this month, she said.

Guiney dispelled rumors in the community that have claimed the district is set to move forward with a $45 million proposition.

Board of Education President James Grieco said district officials had initially considered putting up a new bond to voters in late February. Under state law, a school district must wait at least 90 days after a previous bond has been defeated before presenting voters with another proposition.

Grieco said district officials want more time to hear from residents on the possibility of a new bond, which could consist of more than one proposition, unlike the one that was defeated.

A new bond could go to voters “perhaps by the end of March,” he said. No decision has been made regarding price tag.

“Nothing is in granite,” Grieco said. “We don’t have a number.”

Grieco said one possibility was to hold more than one bond vote this year. For example, voters could be asked to approve most projects in a March vote and the district could then put up a small bond, which could include, for example, a proposition for a turf field and lights at the high school, later in the year.

Aside from the survey, the district plans to hold public meetings to hear from residents, Guiney said.

One resident, who did not identify himself, said “a large contingent” of senior citizens came out to oppose the bond because of its high cost and the taxes associated with it.

Grieco noted that school district budgets and referendums need voter approval, unlike other levels of government budget in the state.

“Unfortunately, it’s on the backs of children” when school budgets and bonds are rejected by voters, he said.

Guiney said by improving educational programs and school facilities property values will rise. She acknowledged the district must do a better job of explaining to residents with no children in the schools the benefits of improving the facilities.

Resident Anthony Chiera, who voted against the bond in November, said “there were a lot of wants, not needs.”

Chiera said he was unhappy that for decades the district failed to regularly maintain its facilities. As a homeowner, he said he budgets the cost of work that’s needed on his house, and the district should have done the same.

Grieco said he could not change the past, but agreed previous officials should have invested in capital projects years ago.

Trustee Christopher Pinchiaroli said during the 2007-08 school year district officials had considered scheduling a referendum, but any plans were scuttled during the 2008 economic crisis.

Chiera said the district should consider scheduling a series of relatively small bonds over several years rather than putting up one large proposition. The district could put out a bond every two years or so, he said.

Trustee Thomas McCabe disagreed with that concept because the district needed to move forward with most of the projects because the work is necessary.

Resident Patrick Donnery said many more parents would need to vote to get a new bond approved.

Grieco said the district must reach out to residents decide on “a palatable number” before a new bond could be presented to voters.

Discussion will continue on the matter during the board’s meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Westlake Middle School/High School library.

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