2018-05-03 / Views

Leland bond expensive, causing us to hesitate

Our first thought about the Leland Public School bond proposal is, “That’s a lot of money.”

Our second thought is, “Remodeling is more expensive than building from scratch.”

And our third thought is a question: “Is everything that’s proposed necessary for a school of that size.”

Voters in the district will decide the fate of a proposed $24.6 million bond for a school housing about 510 students. Leland also provides academic resources for about 50 Lake Leelanau St. Mary students.

Leland, to its credit, has never considered itself as a small school with the connotations such a description might provide. Leaders in the school community thought big to achieve the prestigious International Baccalaureate World school designation. The district’s academic success shows in state testing, and its sports teams have been known to take the hearts of the county downstate to Final Four appearances.

But the school reconstruction project may have a tough time in the voting booth, and not just because of its ambitious vision. About 40 percent of those Leland students reside outside of the district. They are school-of-choice students, some of whom ride the Leland School bus from as far away as nearly Elmwood Township on the east side of the peninsula to attend school.

The surest “yes” voters in these elections are school personnel and the parents of students. In Leland’s case, 4-out-of-10 parents are ineligible to vote.

And fewer district residents have a direct connection with the school as more retirees without Leland roots move here.

The election represents a big step for the school — and the community. While the school through its administration and Board of Education have spoken, community members will soon have their say.

Following are more thoughts on the proposal:

• It’s the most expensive of three “options” that a steering committee came up with — and then some. Three proposals emerged from the committee’s work ranging in price from $16 million to $23 million. The School Board took the most expensive proposal and added in suggestions from staff and parents.

• The Leland School building is a patchwork of construction, with various parts of the building built in the 1930s, 50s, 70s, 90s and 2000. Its older sections have narrow hallways, and the elementary classrooms average about 700 square feet. Modern-day classes should be about 1,100 square feet, according to folks in the business. There’s no doubt that the Leland school is in need of some work. The plan would create a handsome and functional campus.

• The proposal before voters will come with the least disruption to learning of options studied because it expands the footprint of the school. That was a priority of parents involved in the design.

• We’d like to clarify the impact on property owners. In the original document estimating cost of the proposals, the “millage impact” for the most expensive option was stated as a .6-mill increase in property taxes. That was for a $23 million project.

The $24.6 million project is estimated to require an average of 2.02 mills in property taxes paid annually over 26 years to retire. Leland taxpayers are presently paying 1.41 mills for a bond passed in 2001 that will be fully repaid in 2021.

• We like that school thinkers have no intentions of moving from the building’s current site, recognizing the importance of keeping educational opportunities within the community.

• Does Leland need a new and larger main gym? There has been some discussion about sharing gym space with Lake Leelanau St. Mary, which is looking for practice courts for athletic teams. Perhaps that will happen; perhaps not.

We circle back to the cost, and wince. We do understand the need to renovate. However, we would prefer that a less aggressive — and more affordable — proposal be put before constituents.

Return to top