Photo provided by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office
Constantine Public Schools Superintendent Joe Holloway addresses those in attendance at a bond informational hearing held at Constantine High School Friday, March 24.
By Robert Tomlinson
CONSTANTINE — The Constantine community got their first taste of what an upcoming school bond project would look like at a community meeting held Friday, March 24 at Constantine High School.
Constantine Public Schools will be going for a bond proposal on the May 2 ballot, their third time going for one in the last three years. The lone objective of the bond proposal would be to fix the roofs on both the high school and middle school buildings, which have seen leaking and flooding problems over the past several years, including three reports of leaking at the high school alone this school year.
If approved by voters, according to Superintendent Joe Holloway, there would be no millage increase, and the district would refinance its original bond from 2002, which falls off in 2029, to generate the money. The bond is projected to generate $3.9 million in funds, all within the first year, all of which would go to repairing the roofs of both buildings. The maximum number of years the bonds may be outstanding for is six years, which lines up with the falling off the 2002 bond.
If there’s money left over, Holloway said they would fix the roof on the Constantine Tech building. If there is not enough money from the bond to cover the high school and middle school projects, money would come out of the general fund.
The school district has attempted, and failed, the last two years to pass a bond proposal before voters, each of them being soundly defeated by large margins. In November 2021, a bond proposal that would’ve upgraded Eastside Elementary to house all the elementary students, while in the process demolishing Riverside Elementary, and make upgrades and improvements to other facilities for a 0.2 mill tax increase, was defeated by a 57-43 percentage vote. In May 2022, another proposal that would’ve done the same thing, minus any athletics improvements, was defeated by an even wider margin, 63 percent to 37 percent.
Friday’s meeting was the first of a few meetings Holloway said he wants to have with the community about the upcoming bond proposal, with another one scheduled for Wednesday, April 12 at the Mason/Union branch of the Cass District Library. A couple more will be coming in the future, with Holloway saying more meetings in Constantine would be scheduled prior to May 2.
Holloway told the sparse crowd in attendance at the meeting – only a few residents were present – that he hopes this bond will have a different result than the previous couple, going after simply “not wants, but needs.”
“We just came off from two very telling bond proposals, and understandably, there is a lot of conversation that we need to have in the district to build that trust,” Holloway said. “When we looked at some of the things, bare bones, that we absolutely need to have – not wants, but needs – the roof on this building and the roof on the middle school were the two that came back.”
Holloway said finding a way to generate funds to do those replacements was a priority, and ideally, they did not want to take money out of the district’s general fund to do so.
“[General Fund] money is designed for education, teaching and learning. Out hope is going this route with a zero percent increase, refinancing the bonds, that we have the ability to go to the community and get their permission to refinance, get the amount that would be able to fix the two roofs,” Holloway said. “If there’s money left over, and unfortunately we’re not sure that there will be a lot, we’d go to the third one at [Constantine] Tech. Our goal behind all of this is not to deceive, and I know there’s a lot of that concern, but the goal is not to deceive as much as, here’s what we need.”
Holloway also mentioned that, in his estimation, it’s the “last opportunity” for the district to go to voters where there would be no increase to the millage. He noted that the district didn’t receive too much feedback after the last bonds failed and “have not done a good job with follow-up.”
“We came back, modified it very little, put it back out, got the same response without any interaction,” Holloway said. “My hope this time around: Here’s what we need, hat in hand, how can we come to you, the voters, get an understanding of what your feelings are. If there is support, how can we continue to grow that support?”
However, complaints were evident with both trust in the district and communication about the event for a good part of the meeting. A couple of the residents in attendance said they were not informed about either the meeting or the bond until within the last couple days before the meeting, only hearing about it through word of mouth. One resident said that communication problems such as these have been, in their opinion, part of the undoing of the previous bond proposals.
Holloway, for his part, did take the complaints into consideration, saying he could take “100 percent of the criticism” for not sending out informational material about the bond to the community, such as flyers and mailers, and that the district will look into sending those out to the community informing them about the proposal.
Other issues discussed by the few residents in attendance had to do with mistrust of the district from previous bond proposals and projects, including the construction of the high school and the large group instruction room, the construction of a maintenance building, criticism about the districts’ previous operations and “dirty politics,” and concerns about the fund balance of the district, among other subjects, some of which they opined also were part of the reason residents have shot down previous bond proposals.
Holloway said he recognized there has been a lot of mistrust in the district over the past several years, and that it was good to hear that from people and learn about what people think. He diagnosed some of the issues with the last few bond proposals, saying in his opinion, the district didn’t effectively go to voters and asked them what they wanted to see.
“We told the voters what they needed, and we didn’t listen to the voters, we didn’t go to the voters and ask them what they wanted and how they felt about it. We said, ‘this is what you need,’ and any time you tell people what they need, you’re going to get rejected. You should get rejected,” Holloway said. “I’ve been part of quite a few bond proposals throughout my career, and what I’ve found is the two that we attempted here were pretty rushed. You have to take that grassroots approach, you need to have conversations with people that may disagree with you. You don’t have to be disrespectful, what you have to do is you have to listen, and you have to say, ‘Okay, if you don’t support this, what would you support?’ Ultimately, we have to find a way to educate our kids.”
If the bond does not pass, Holloway said, then they would have to fix the roofs in sections and pull money from the general fund. However, Holloway did not rule out the possibility of trying again in the November 2023 election cycle, but he said there may be a millage increase proposed if it gets to that point.
“I couldn’t confidently say it would be zero at that point, just based on inflation and what the interest rate might be,” Holloway said. “Ideally, we’d have to attack it in phases, and honestly, it’s not something we want to have to think about. We’re hoping we can get out and get information out there.”
If passed, Holloway said roof work would begin in spring of next year.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.