Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ballot Language Explained

Something that often comes up in ballot questions like our upcoming November 5th bond proposal is the nature of the language.  Many have remarked to me that the language is at least somewhat confusing.  Often folks wonder why it can't just be a bit more clear and simple!

The short answer to why the bond language is the way it is presented is that it is due to legal issues that have played out over the years, resulting in requirements that often times come across as complicated or strange to the layperson seeking to make an informed decision.  This is why we have worked hard as a district to educate our community through in-person forums, news media, mailings, and other forums (including blogs like this one). 

One example of this is surrounding the first lines of our Nov. 5th ballot question, which reads as follows...

Shall Benzie County Central Schools, Benzie, Manistee, Grand Traverse, and Wexford Counties, Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed forty-seven million eight-hundred and fifty thousand ($47,850,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds therefor, in one or more series, for the purpose of...

A major question often is why are 4 counties listed on the ballot question?  Folks often wonder if this means that our taxes are shared with other districts, or if we are collecting taxes from beyond our district.

The answer to this questions is really quite simple, but often unrealized.  Benzie County Central Schools district boundaries go beyond Benzie County lines!  Indeed, our district has significant portions of Northern Manistee County within our district as well as relatively small portions of Wexford and Grand Traverse Counties in the Southeastern portion of our district.  In fact - one of our buildings, Betsie Valley Elementary, is actually located in Manistee County!

It is required for school districts to list each county in which they have any property at all on any ballot question.  So there you have it - we are required to list 4 counties on our ballot.  But rest assured, this bond ONLY impacts those residents within our DISTRICT boundaries and the bond funds will benefit ONLY Benzie Central Schools - not other neighboring districts.

In addition, I have had people ask about the language above referring to general obligation unlimited tax bonds.  Often people misperceive this language as giving the district the right to collect as much tax as we'd like!  This, of course, is not the case.  The bond question specifically authorizes the district to borrow up to 47.85 million dollars only.  We then are obligated to levy a millage to pay back those bonds at the term set (26 years).  This results in the millage rates that we have widely distributed and discussed - a total levy of 2.98 mills (an increase of less than 1/2 of a mill from our current levy of 2.5 mills).

We recognize that ballot language can be confusing, and as such, have worked with our bond attorney and the state treasury department to make the language as clear and concise as legally allowed while still accomplishing what is needed for the project.

As always, I encourage anyone with any questions to reach out to me directly at (231) 882-9653 or email me at olsonmp@benzieschools.net.  I'm happy to answer any questions!

Thanks for reading and please remember to VOTE NOVEMBER 5th!!!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Outperforming Expectations

I believe strongly that Benzie Central Schools are a solid investment given what we do for our kids.  Yet that belief isn't enough.  It's important to have hard data to back that claim up.

Today, the statewide news agency MLive published an article that really brings home why our school district stands out among the hundreds of other districts in the state of Michigan.  The subject of the article was performance on SAT by high schools where greater than half of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.  The SAT is one of the nations oldest, most respected, and most reliable measures of student achievement.

It's no secret that our region has economic struggles and that many of our students come from circumstances where resources are scarce.  Poverty in our region is real and presents many challenges for our schools, many of our families, and our overall community.  But it's important for us all to remember that these challenges do NOT have to determine our fate, or more importantly, the fate of our children. 

The article notes that 447 public high schools in the state of Michigan had a junior class where over 50% of the juniors who took the SAT qualified for subsidized lunch.  Out of those 447 schools, only 24 exceeded state averages on the SAT exam overall. 

Benzie Central was among the 24.   That's the top 5%.

Exceeding expectations is something that we are proud of at Benzie Central.  Such performance on the SAT is reflective of years of preparation and is something that our entire staff, from preschool to high school, can and should be proud of.  And it's not the first time.  We have been recognized many times, in many different ways over the years for exemplary performance and exceeding expectations.

We have challenges in our district to be sure.  But Benzie Central refuses to let those challenges define us.  This exemplifies why I'm proud to be a Husky.

And you should be too!

Click for the Full Article











Thursday, August 22, 2019

As we get closer to the critical bond proposal vote in November, I'd like to take the occasional opportunity to provide information and clarification regarding questions and concerns brought forth in the community.  
One of those points of confusion surrounding bond proposal votes often is the bond monies themselves. What can they or can't they be legally used for???
Generally speaking, a bond is the mechanism by which school districts pay for large-scale projects, including new facilities and major renovations. All bond proposals are approved by the state only for a set scope of projects and nothing more. Once a bond proposal is passed, the school district sells one or more bonds in the authorized amount and uses those funds to pay for only the projects listed in the proposal.  
In this way, bonds are not unlike a mortgage on a home as they are typically paid off over the course of 20-30 years. Just as most homebuyers cannot afford to buy a home outright, the vast majority of school districts fund new and renovated facilities using bonds.
Bond funds cannot be used for employee salaries or employee compensation of any kind. In addition, bond funds cannot be used for operating costs including the costs for basic repair and maintenance.  For instance, we could use bond funds to replace HVAC systems in our building, but could not use bond funds to change out our furnace filters in buildings.  Bond funds can only be used for new construction, additions, renovations, energy conservation improvements, land purchases, bus purchases, site development, debt refunding and direct bond program costs (professional fees, audit fees, etc.)
Michigan is somewhat unique as we are among a handful of states that does not directly provide for capital projects / expenditures except through locally passed millages.  Therefore, the vast majority of districts levy some sort of millage to pay for bonds to fund major projects.  The average millage for such projects in our state runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-5.5 mills.
As always, please feel free to contact me at olsonmp@benzieschools.net or call our Central Offices at (231) 882-9653 if you have any further questions.  Go Huskies!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Getting Ready for Back to School!

As I write this, it is August 15th.  I noticed a bit more of a chill in the air this morning compared to some of our mornings as of late.  The days are beginning to shorten a bit too.  These are all telltale signs that summer is slipping away and school is just about ready to kick off!

It's been a busy summer here in Benzie Central.  I often have people ask me if I'm "back to work" this time of year.  I generally smile and remind them that I never left!  Our dedicated operations and CBO staff work year round, with summer serving as a time for "resetting" the district and preparing for the next year.  Indeed, many of our staff have been engaged in other preparatory work this summer.  We use this time to engage in training, take courses for certification, and otherwise think about and work on how we can improve upon our practice for next year.  We are grateful for our dedicated employees that work hard in the "off season" to improve their craft!

As we get ready for back to school, we're also in the midst of gearing up for a new bond campaign.  As you may recall, voters in Benzie Central narrowly rejected our last bond proposal in May by just over a hundred votes.  We've since taken stock of that loss and worked to gather feedback from our community.  We've taken that feedback and re-tooled our proposal for placement on the ballot in November.  Some of the changes we've made to the plan include:

     - Shortened term of the bond (25 years down from original 30 years)
     - Reduced interest costs over the life of the bond (savings of nearly 8 million dollars)
     - Lower millage rate (2.98 mills down from original 3.00 mills)
     - Inclusion of early childhood classroom addition at Lake Ann Elementary

The Benzie Central Board of Education and Michigan Department of Treasury have both approved the changed plan and we look forward to engaging our community in dialogue surrounding the ideas therein.  Election Day is November 5th!

On behalf of the entire staff of Benzie Central, we look forward to welcoming our kids back on our first day of school - Tuesday September 3rd!  Don't forget, you are also invited to attend our open house evening on Wednesday, August 28th.  Elementary buildings are scheduled from 5:30 to 6:30 and our middle / high school is scheduled from 6:30 to 7:30.  Following our High School Open House, the community is invited to a presentation and forum regarding the bond proposal in our Auditorium from 7:30 to 8:30PM.

Go Huskies!


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Summer (Finally!)

Summer's been a funny thing this year.  Some say it starts on Memorial Day Weekend.  Meteorologists actually consider the 1st of June "meteorological summer".  The calendar says it commences with Summer solstice on June 21.  And many kids (and adults) consider it to be the last day of school (June 12 for us).  As for me, I'm not sure it really happened until this past week when we (finally) got some real summer like weather for more than a few hours at once!

With the advent of summer break, like many parents, I've been thinking about how to help my kids do something other than lay around the house and play video games.  It's a challenge as old as public schooling itself. 

Thankfully, we live in a region where we have LOTS of great options to exercise to help us in both mind and body.  Plus, there are just some unique options to provide family fun and bonding.  So if you're looking for some easy and fun ways to get your kids up and moving, consider the following...

- Sign up for the Summer Reading Program at Benzonia Public Library.  They, along with our other great regional libraries, have great collections of children's and young adult books.

- Take your family on a walk / hike on one of our amazing trails at Arcadia Bluffs, Sleeping Bear Dunes, the Betsie Valley Trail, or the Art Walk at Crystal Mountain (just to name a few).

- Have a Beach day.  There's too many great options to list!

- Take the kids up to one of our playgrounds or parks - lots of options there as well!

- Try out our own local science and discovery center, Cognition, at it's new location on US31 in Beulah.

- Take in our local Benzie Symphony Orchestra or our Benzie Community Chorus concerts, or check out the Concert in the Park series downtown Beulah on Thursday evenings.

- Take in a double feature at the Cherry Bowl Drive In (Kids under 13 are free!)

I wish all of you a wonderful summer break and hope you are able to take some time to enjoy some of what makes us one of the most visited and loved places in Michigan, and indeed, in the entire country! 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Graduation Day!!!

It's the best day of the year!

Seriously - for educators, there may be no more poignant and meaningful day then graduation day.  We are part of a profession that rarely gets to see the full fruits of our labors.  On a day to day basis, lessons are being learned and knowledge is being imparted.  Yet we often have to take a deferral on being able to see those lessons in action from our students.  We may have to wait until a day, many years later, when we run into a former student somewhere random and find out what they're up to and how much they appreciated the work that we put into helping them succeed.  Those are great days, but they tend to be relatively few and far between compared to the numbers of students we serve!

Graduation day puts many of those rewards right in the forefront.  Our community gets to celebrate the accomplishments of our kids in a big way.  There's a reason that we use "Pomp and Circumstance" as part of the musical tribute, as that's what the ceremony is about.  Whether we had them in kindergarten or AP Calculus, everyone in the educational system plays a role in getting those kids to the stage where they get handed a diploma and have their moment in the spotlight.  It's not the end, but boy is it a great moment along the journey we call life. 

On June 2nd, we had dozens of graduates clad in red approach the stage at Benzie Central for their moment in the spotlight in a very full gymnasium.  I can hardly describe the feeling of pride, seeing these amazing young people taking their literal first steps into a much bigger world.  Watching the varied reactions to the moment is a joy and a privilege.  Some strut across the stage with confidence, while others are more clearly nervous.  Whatever the individual reaction though, they all are taking literal and figurative steps that are leading them into new and uncharted personal territory.  That's part of what makes it so magical.  It's a shared experience, a ceremony, a ritual by which our society defines itself. 

So congrats to our Benzie Central Class of 2019.  And equally as important, thank you to the amazing community who supported them in this endeavor.  The outpouring of support, the thousands of pictures, and the tens of thousands of hugs, handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps that were occurring all over campus Sunday afternoon were a testament to the love and support that we enjoy as part of the Husky family.  We are #OneBenzie, and it shows every day, but probably never more so than on graduation day.  After all...

It is the best day of the year!






Monday, May 6, 2019

Election Day Tuesday May 7th!!!

Greetings #OneBenzie Community!


Tomorrow is the day!  Tuesday May 7th is Election Day for Benzie Central Schools.  If you haven't been aware of the bond proposal on the ballot - you can check out the web page here with information to help you learn more.  Polls are open from 7AM to 8PM.

Ultimately, this bond proposal is about thinking forward.  It's about generation solutions, not temporary band-aids.  There is a very distinct reason the future planning committee chose the slogan Strong Schools = Strong Communities as our rallying cry for this effort.  We believe that strong schools serve as a foundation for our community.  Having quality school buildings and infrastructure contributes strongly to having a quality school district.  And by extension, a quality school district leads to higher property values, a stronger workforce, a vibrant economy, and an attractive environment for business and economic development.

And what will this investment cost our taxpayers?  A modest increase in your tax bill of 1/2 of a mill compared to the current rates.

We are fortunate to live in the Benzie County region for a lot of reasons.  We have unsurpassed natural beauty, endless recreational opportunities, and an amazing group of people in our community.  We also have a strong tax base which allows us to keep our tax rates low - indeed over 40% lower (even after this modest increase) than the average school district in the state of Michigan.

Please be sure to get out there on May 7th and make your vote count!