East Lansing Voters Say No to School Bond

Feb 29, 2012

After months of intense debate, voters in East Lansing have turned down a $53 million school bond proposal. 

Opponents, who campaigned to defeat the proposal, say they’re in favor of upgrading aging school buildings, but say it can be done for less money and on a smaller scale.  

When the final vote against the East Lansing school bond issue came in last night, the results seemed to broadside superintendant Dave Chapin.   After months of public hearings, planning sessions and informational campaigns, he was clearly disappointed.

(MILLICH):     “What’s your feeling about this?  I mean, why do you think it turned out this way?”

“Well, I’m not...I don’t claim to be a political scientist, so I’m not really sure I understand all the politics that took place here,” Chapin admits.  “But I think what’s important right now is that we re-group; and actually, I was ready to say that whether this was a yes or a no outcome, because I do think it’s been more contentious than I thought.  Re-grouping and moving forward; finding a way to channel all this energy that’s out there in a positive direction on behalf of our students and our school district is incredibly important right now.”

Jeff Williams also supported the bond issue.  He represents the group “Support East Lansing Public Schools.”  I asked him if he thought there was anything he could have done differently to mitigate the contention and disagreement that marred the public process.

“I think that’s a fair statement of the whole process that really started publicly this summer in terms of the community and the school board debating the issue,” says Williams.  “This was a very important issue to the community; still is a very important issue to the community, and clearly the community has not come to a judgment about how to come forward.  And we will still need as a community to talk about what to do with our elementary school facilities built 50 and 60 years ago, and we need to make sure they correctly serve the student population now and in the future.”

(MILLICH):     Now, what do you expect is going to happen after today?

“I think many people are going to try to get some sleep, on both sides of the issue,” says Williams.  “ It’s been, again…a very positive thing out of this entire thing, especially this summer, is that the community did let their voice be heard, the community did speak very clearly to keep as many neighborhood schools open as possible.  And the community clearly is deeply engaged with the schools.  The community is divided about how to move them forward.  I’m interested to see what the better plan is that the other side has talked about; it looks like it’s their day in the sun, so I’m very curious to see what they have and how they move the district forward.”

Thomas Baumann is ready to go with an alternative plan.  His group “Support A Better Plan” opposed the bond proposal.  He says he would’ve supported a bond proposal to upgrade school buildings, but not this plan.

“Certainly, I think that investing in public education is very important, especially at this time,” says Baumann.  “Investing in public education is probably the best way you can invest money.  But you have to have a fiscally responsible plan and a plan that is smart.  I think the voters showed that this plan to build five new schools and close one school was not popular, and the more that the public found out about the details of this plan, they couldn’t accept it.”

Baumann says they’d like to work with the school board to devise a new plan, and he says the board’s decision to close Red Cedar Elementary should also be revisited. 

Both sides agree the issue of aging school infrastructure is a detriment to student education.  But for the foreseeable future, all parties involved are taking time to catch their breath after a long and often bitter campaign.