Bond proposals discussed

ISHPEMING – More than 20 people attended an open house and meeting at Birchview Elementary School in Ishpeming Wednesday night to discuss the Ishpeming Public Schools District’s upcoming bond proposals.

Those in attendance, a great majority of whom were school board members, teachers, aides or other school staff, asked a variety of questions about the work that would be done at Birchview and the Ishpeming Middle/High School building if district voters approve the sale of $7.84 million in bonds at the election May 6.

The school additions and upgrades are divided into two separate proposals. The first – which Business Manager and interim Superintendent Anthony Bertucci and board members said focuses on the immediate needs of the schools – calls for the replacement of windows at the middle/high school with new energy-efficient ones that remain historically accurate to the building; an addition on the building’s north side which would house a cafeteria, kitchen area and student commons on the second floor and a wrestling area and fitness center on the first; lighting upgrades and installation of energy-efficient window shades at Birchview; and the addition of two computer labs, also at Birchview. Proposal one, if passed, would levy an additional 2.95 mills on district taxpayers.

The second proposal was created with the aim of housing all the district’s elementary students together in one building, by adding two new classrooms at Birchview, as well as additional restroom facilities compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Proposal two would levy an additional 0.42 mills.

Most of the discussion at the open house centered on what the district can do to make Ishpeming schools more attractive to the parents of prospective students, and how crucial the proposed changes and upgrades to the school facilities are in aiding that overall strategy.

“We’re being proactive now,” said board president Geno Maino. “These are the things we want to promote and push and make this school the best possible.”

One Ishpeming resident, Jason Argall, asked why adding two new computer labs at Birchview was included among the more immediate needs of proposal one, when uniting all the district’s elementary school students under one roof was only in the second proposal. Currently, there is one kindergarten and one junior kindergarten class being taught at the middle/high school building.

Bertucci said that with new testing standards that he and the board expects the state of Michigan to implement in the next couple of years – which could require as many as four tests a year that must be taken on a computer – the board felt that new computer labs were a greater priority. Birchview currently has one computer lab, but Bertucci said that it would be extremely difficult for all of the elementary students to use the single, small room. And if voters approve the addition of the computer labs, the current lab could be converted back to a general education classroom, freeing up space for more elementary students at Birchview.

Argall wanted to know why the information about the state’s new standards wasn’t included as a selling point in the mailings sent out to district taxpayers. Bertucci said the school had to be very careful about what they include in the mailings – that the information must be factual and informative only, and cannot advocate voting one way or another. Argall and others then discussed how important it was to get that kind of information out to members of the public before the election, so that they could consider that factor in making their decision.

The district will hold another “community forum” meeting at 6 this evening at the Ishpeming Middle/High School, where Bertucci and the board will address any public questions, comments or concerns related to the bonds. For more information, including building plans, artist mockups, cost figures and a tax calculator, visit www.ishpemingschools.org/bond-proposal and click the various tabs at the left.