By Travis Smola
The Schoolcraft school board voted to delay putting a $30-40 million bond issue for improvements or a new elementary and middle school on the May ballot based on the results of an October phone survey.
Board Secretary Jennifer Gottschalk said the results of the survey conducted by Lansing-based survey research firm Epic MRA back in October showed support for a new bond issue was split nearly 50-50. The results were simply too close for comfort for the committee.
Trustee Jill Hunt agreed. “We feel the community just doesn’t understand the dire straits our buildings are in,” Hunt said. “So we need to go out and do more due diligence. Really put it out there and explain the situation in these facilities and why we really need to push a bond forward.”
The board unanimously approved a resolution that will continue its relationship with Christman Construction and architect C2AE as the planning committee regroups to try to better educate the community on the issue.
Trustee Jason Walther thanked Superintendent Rusty Stitt for recommending the phone survey, saying it likely helped them avoid the disappointment of a failed bond vote. “One of the interesting things to me that was so valuable in the survey was the incredible amount of recognition that came through,” Walther said. “I mean, the community just thinks the schools are doing an awesome job.”
Walther felt the success of the staff may have something to do with the community not being aware of major issues like the aging boiler at the middle school. “We’re victims of our own success, almost,” he added. Walther suggested another survey by Epic MRA might be a good idea in the future after they’ve had a chance to reach more of the community.
Fellow trustee Michael Rochholz agreed saying the results may have “seemed salty,” but the information they got back was valuable. “It is going to be a lot of work. This community is a great community for supporting its schools, for supporting things, but sometimes they’re not as connected or as understanding,” Rochholz said. “That’s where you’re going to need that push.”
Robert McGraw of C2AE was also on hand at the meeting and said 70 percent of the voters in the district have no stake in the schools because they have no children in the district. He said this was where the focus needed to be going forward . He recommended doing more communication and outreach to them.
Gottschalk suggested their first step should simply be to hold more meetings and events at the older buildings in 2019 so the community can see the conditions for themselves.
“If we don’t do this the right way, we’re going to end up spending a lot of money on a vote and we’re going to be right back to square one again,” Gottschalk said. “We just need to take this one step at a time.”
The board also conducted a closed-session evaluation of Superintendent Stitt at their meeting. The board gave Stitt a rating of 94 percent, which is considered highly effective.
“Rusty was pleased with the outcome,” Board President Darby Fetzer said in a statement in an email. “His strength of instructional leadership is clearly recognized by the board. Rusty sees the high marks achieved as a very positive reflection on the district as a whole.”