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Frequently Asked Questions

Over the past year the St. Joseph Public School Board of Education, Administration and Community Stakeholders assessed the need for a district-wide bond proposal to address critical infrastructure updates as well as key educational enhancements that will impact student education across the district.
 

Our community will have the opportunity to vote on a bond proposal on the May 7, 2024 election ballot. If approved by voters, it would provide $98.5M for district-wide improvements which will address identified and ongoing facility projects based on facility assessments and community input.


 
  • Why is an Early Childhood Center (ECC) needed?
    Through the strategic and master planning processes stakeholders expressed concerns about our crowded elementary schools and the need for high quality, accessible preschool and before-and after-school programs. If the bond is supported by our community and the ECC is opened, the young five and early childhood special education programs operating at the elementary schools would move into the ECC. This would open up one to two classrooms at each elementary school, alleviating some of the existing crowding. With an in-district preschool program, participating students, who choose to continue their education in the St. Joseph Public Schools will have the opportunity to transition into young fives or kindergarten due to having experienced curriculum, instruction, and expectations which are tightly aligned to those that are a part of our K-5 elementary schools. In addition, young five and early childhood special education students, have unique developmental needs and learning styles which are best supported in facilities specifically designed to meet those needs. It is known that employees lacking reliable childcare more frequently miss work and experience greater levels of stress. An ECC could improve retention and well-being of SJPS employees by providing employees with reliable access to high-quality preschool and before- and after-school programs. Research supports the importance of high-quality preschool for school preparation: “The preponderance of evidence demonstrates that high-quality preschool leaves children better prepared for school, especially in terms of their academic skill development.” ~ Meloy, B., Gardner, M., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2019). Untangling the Evidence on Preschool Effectiveness: Insights for Policymakers. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Overall, an early childhood center will alleviate crowding at our three elementary schools, provide a specifically designed environment to meet the unique learning needs of our youngest students, allow for a transition into our elementary schools, create needed space to operate preschool and childcare programs, and provide an opportunity to improve employee retention and well-being.
  • What programs would likely be offered at an ECC?
    We are still determining the specific program offerings at the ECC. In general, the ECC could offer: Before- and after-school childcare for preK-5th grade students Summer childcare Tuition-based three- and four-year old preschool (full- and/or part-time) Early childhood special education services
  • What process would be used to engage the community in the design elements of the early childhood center and facility improvements?
    The architects, engineers and construction management team, with extensive experience designing early childhood and K-12 facilities, would engage staff, students, and community stakeholders for input on an intentional design process for all proposed improvements. Specific design efforts would begin if the bond proposal is approved.
  • How was the bond proposal developed?
    The district conducted facilities needs assessment to understand and outline the needs of the buildings in the district. Over the course of a year, the district reviewed the facility assessment to develop and prioritize projects. In addition, the district solicited stakeholder input through the strategic planning process, community forums, and surveys to identify a vision for the future. That vision is referred to as a master plan.
  • What is the connection to the district strategic plan?
    The school district undertook an in-depth strategic planning process that led to an updated plan focused on moving our district forward for the next four years. Key themes that came out of the strategic planning process are teaching and learning; systems of support; stakeholder engagement, and finance, facilities, and operations. One action item from our plan was to study and evaluate our current facilities in order to most effectively plan for upcoming maintenance, building updates, and future program needs.
  • What is a facilities needs assessment and master plan?
    The facilities needs assessment and master plan are a living resources that allow the district to monitor and plan for infrastructure needs as buildings and systems reach the end of their useful life. They also inventory existing buildings, evaluate how they are utilized, and consider opportunities for future growth. The plan is put together with input and consultation from the community to guide the district on how to best invest and balance needs vs. wants.
  • How were the facility needs assessment and master plan conducted?
    The facilities master plan is a combination of input from stakeholders and an in-depth building analysis. Beginning with our strategic planning focus groups and through subsequent forums and surveys we have collected responses about how our families and greater community rate our existing facilities. Working with a team of design and construction professionals, we studied building systems across the district to catalog useful life of infrastructure. Using this data, we created a roadmap of highest priority updates and repairs that are needed over the next decade. This process allows the district to budget and plan building maintenance. Along with studying our existing conditions, we took the opportunity to meet with internal and external stakeholders and collect visionary ideas for future facility planning.
  • What is the role of the SJ Schools Foundation in the bond and funding schools?
    The St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation (SJPSF, the “Foundation”) is an 501c(3)/non-profit organization that operates independently, yet in support of the St. Joseph Public Schools. SJPSF is a wonderful partner of the district that directs donations, in the form of grants, to the students and staff at SJPS. Donations are the result of the generosity of local businesses, such as Whirlpool, and from individuals of families with a passion for SJPS and education. The purpose of the St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation is to raise, steward, and distribute resources to enrich the education of students in the St. Joseph Public Schools District. Although the Foundation is a steadfast partner of the district, it does not have the resources to independently meet the significant infrastructure and programming needs that are part of the bond proposal.
  • What is the role of the Board of Education in the process?
    The Board of Education charged the superintendent and administration with assessing the state of the district facilities. Through that process of strategic planning, facility assessing, and master planning, the administration reported back to the Board Education their findings. In addition, the Board of Education participated in Board workshops, focus groups, and community forums to ensure a complete understanding of assessment findings and stakeholder needs and concerns. This multi-month process culminated in the superintendent recommending the district move forward in asking the community to consider this bond proposal at the May 7, 2024 election.
  • Why is the amount of this bond proposal larger than the amounts requested in previous bond proposals?
    This bond proposal is larger and differs from previous requests. Previous bond requests were designated for a narrower set of immediate needs. For instance, the 2001 and 2010 bond proposals were specifically allocated to the football stadium/field house in 2001 and the renovation of the high school and secure entry ways in 2010. The district then returned to the voters for technology and transportation funding six years later. The 2024 bond proposal takes a longer view of the district's needs. Rather than focusing merely on the immediate needs, it looks at the district’s needs over the long term and would allocate the bond proceeds over an extended period of time. In addition, the 2024 bond proposal would address needs across the entire district. The purpose of a larger bond amount now is to avoid returning to the voters in 5 to 10 years with another request.
  • What is the interest rate that will be paid on the bonds?
    Interest rates are market driven and will be determined on the date bonds are sold. The district will actively work to secure the lowest interest rates possible in the marketplace.
  • How can voters be sure the bond funds would be spent the way they are supposed to be spent?
    Michigan law requires the expenditure of bond proceeds to be audited. The bond proceeds can only be spent for purposes approved by the voters. The bond cannot be used for repair or maintenance costs; teacher, administrator, or employee salaries, or other operating expenses. An audit would be completed at the end of each series to ensure compliance.
  • How is the district held accountable?
    If the bond proposal were to be approved by voters, the district’s architect/engineer would design the proposed projects and prepare construction documents and specifications for the projects. Once the projects are designed, the district’s construction manager would assemble bid packages and publicly advertise to solicit competitive bids for all work. Competitive bidding is required by the Revised School Code. This process ensures that the district selects the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. All qualified contractors would have an opportunity to attend a pre-bid meeting to obtain additional information and project clarification, and all would have the opportunity to participate in the competitive bid process.
  • What about the previously approved Sinking Fund? How does that impact the District’s finances?
    In May 2014, voters approved a Sinking Fund that provides approximately $950,000 per year for 10 years. The sinking fund specifically is for the purchase of real estate for sites, construction or repair of school buildings. Sinking Funds can be used for remodeling or repairing facilities, improving sites, structures, athletic facilities, playgrounds, or other facilities. The Sinking Fund ensures that operational funding remains in the classroom for teaching and learning, instructional materials, and technology. The fund also provides resources to help districts maintain their buildings so that students and staff have warm, safe, and dry learning environments.
  • What is the history of Voter Approved Bonds in St. Joseph Public Schools?
    2001 $22.4 million -- Bond payments are completed. Project Focus: Upton MS media center, art room, orchestra room, auxiliary gymnasium, and security, High School football stadium, track, and field house 2010 $38 million -- Bond payments will be completed in 2035. Project Focus: High School renovation including energy efficient windows, Performance Arts Center at High School and performing arts spaces, secure entrances across the district 2016 $8.4 million -- Bond payments will be completed in 2030. Project Focus: Instructional technology for classroom teaching School buses
  • Why can’t the District wait to add an additional bond issue until after the other millages are paid off?
    Within the past 25 years, SJPS has passed three bond proposals: 2001 $21.5 million - bond payments completed. Upton MS media center, art room, orchestra room, auxiliary gymnasium, and security, High School football stadium, track, and field house. 2010 $38 million - bond payments to be completed in 2035. High School renovation including energy efficient windows, Performance Arts Center at High School and performing arts spaces, secure entrances across the district. 2016 $8.4 million - bond payments to be completed in 2030. Instructional technology for classroom teaching, school buses. If the district were to wait until all our previous bonds were paid off, we would not be able to address deteriorating vital district infrastructure in a timely manner. As an example, there millions of dollars of roofs that need replacement over the next ten years. Waiting until all existing bonds are paid off would mean instructing students in environments with leaking roofs, chipping paint, and inefficient mechanical and electrical systems.
  • What is a bond proposal and how can funds from a bond be spent?
    A bond proposal is how public school districts authorize a borrowing of money to pay for capital expenditures. Voter-approved bond funds can be spent on new construction, additions, remodeling, site improvements, athletic facilities, playgrounds, furnishings, equipment, and other capital needs. Funds raised through the sale of bonds cannot be used on operational expenses such as employee salaries and benefits, school supplies, and textbooks. Bond funds must be kept separate from operating funds and must be audited by an independent auditing firm.
  • What is the ballot language for the bond proposal?
    Shall St. Joseph Public Schools, Berrien County, Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed Ninety-Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($98,500,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds therefor, in one or more series, for the purpose of: remodeling, making security improvements to, erecting additions to, furnishing and refurnishing, and equipping and re-equipping school buildings; acquiring and installing instructional technology and instructional technology equipment for school buildings; purchasing school buses; acquiring a school building; and equipping, developing and improving playgrounds, play fields, athletic fields and facilities, parking areas, driveways and sites? The following is for informational purposes only: The estimated millage that will be levied for the proposed bonds in 2024 is 2.56 mills ($2.56 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation) for a 1.95 mills net increase over the prior year’s levy. The maximum number of years the bonds of any series may be outstanding, exclusive of any refunding, is twenty-five (25) years. The estimated simple average annual millage anticipated to be required to retire this bond debt is 3.24 mills ($3.24 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation). Please see the voter information page for ballot language breakdown.
  • Would money from the bond proposal be used to pay teachers’ salaries and benefits?
    No. School districts are not allowed to use funds from a bond for operating expenses such as teacher, administrator, or employee salaries, maintenance, or operating costs. Bond proceeds can only be spent for purposes approved by the voters. Bond revenue must be kept separate from operating funds and expenditures must be audited by an independent auditing firm.
  • Would the approval of the bond proposals have any impact on our current operational budget?
    While funding from these bond proposals is independent of the district’s general fund operating budget, the bonds would likely have a positive impact on the district’s general fund by allowing the district to reallocate operating funds that are currently being spent on aging facilities, paving, mechanical systems, and technology. The operational savings generated from new and cost-efficient facilities could be redirected to student programs and resources.
  • Is the bond millage rate estimated to be the same for the entire life of a bond proposal?
    No, bond millage rates are estimated to decline over time due to bond repayment and taxable value growth, as illustrated in the charts. Sample Chart
  • When would the millage for this proposal first be levied?
    On the July 1, 2024 property tax bill.
  • Are businesses, second homes (non-homestead property), and primary homes (homestead property) treated the same regarding bond millage?
    Yes, businesses, second homes (non-homestead), and primary homes (homestead) are treated the same regarding bond millage. All properties are assessed for debt millage based on their taxable value.
  • How does the millage rate of SJPS compare to area schools?
    The SJPS debt millage rate is currently 3.7 mills. If the bond is approved, the SJPS millage rate is projected to total 5.65 mills in the first year.
  • What is a series bond?
    The bond proposal on the ballot in May 2024 is a multiple series bond proposal. If the proposal is approved, it would authorize SJPS to break the total bond authorization down into smaller amounts and to sell that total authorized amount at different points in time (series). This approach allows the district to issue bonds only when funds are needed for projects and minimizes interest costs.
  • What is the advantage of selling bonds in more than one series?
    By structuring the sale of bonds into more than one series spread out over a longer period of time, the district can better match the issuance of debt with the timing for which funds are needed. Bond sales are heavily regulated by state and federal laws, and compliance with IRS timelines is an important consideration when planning projects funded through the issuance of bonds.
  • How would the bond proposals impact my property taxes?
    If approved by voters, the total debt millage rate will increase from 3.7 mills to 5.65 mills in the first year the bonds are issued. You can find out exactly what the bond would be projected to cost you by using the tax calculator on the tax information tab at the top of this page.
  • Are technology purchases going to be amortized over a 25-year period?
    No. Technology purchases are required to be amortized over a 5-year period beginning at the time of installation.
  • How can I learn more about the bond proposal?
    Please visit www.sjpsfuture.org or contact Jenny Fee, Superintendent at (269)926-3100 or by email at jfee@schools.org if you have any questions.
  • With a successful bond election, what are the typical phases essential to the completion of a project?
    After a successful bond election, bond projects would typically go through four phases. 1. Design phase: The architect, engineers and construction management team will engage building and community stakeholders for input on an intentional design process for all proposed improvements. 2. State approval phase: The team would facilitate all local and state approvals for the projects. Each project would be required to be submitted to both the Bureau of Construction Codes (BCC) and the Bureau of Fire Services (BFS) for both plan review and permitting. These agencies would review the projects to ensure they comply with applicable codes, before any building permits are issued. Building plans and specifications must be signed and sealed by a Licensed Architect/Professional Engineer before submission. As of March 21, 2019, Michigan law requires school districts to consult on the plans for the construction or major renovation regarding school safety issues with the law enforcement agency that is the first responder for that school building. This consultation would happen after a bond proposal has been approved by voters, before construction documents are finalized prior to project commencement. 3. Bidding phase: If approved by voters, the district’s Architect/Engineer would design the proposed projects and prepare construction documents and specifications for the projects. Once the projects are designed, the district’s Construction Manager would assemble bid packages and publicly advertise to solicit competitive bids for all work. This is required by law, as outlined in the Revised School Code. This process ensures that the district selects the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. All qualified contractors will have an opportunity to attend a pre-bid meeting to obtain additional information and project clarification. All qualified contractors would have the opportunity to participate in the competitive bid process. 4. Construction phase: Construction implementation will be phased over three series. Work would be divided to create the most cost efficient and safe work plan for the district. Daily, weekly and monthly status updates would be shared with internal and external stakeholders throughout the course of the projects.
  • How long will it take to complete the bond program?
    The $98.5M bond program that would update and impact district-wide facilities will be phased over the course of six-years. The design and construction process would efficiently plan project implementation during the times of year that will cause the least amount of disturbance for students, staff and families. Understanding that some construction would continue throughout the school year, extensive mitigation measures would be put into place to safely separate school activities from active construction projects.
  • Can School of Choice (SOC) families vote in our school bond election?
    Only residents of the St. Joseph Public Schools district may vote in our school bond election.
  • Would families with children attending SJPS that do not reside within the District’s boundaries pay for the proposed bond through a tax increase?
    No. Only residents living within the SJPS school district will pay this millage.
  • What percentage of students currently attending SJPS live within the District’s boundaries?
    Approximately 77% of students attending SJPS schools are residents of the district.
  • How does school of choice (SOC) impact our programs and facilities at SJPS?
    Public schools in the State of Michigan are funded with a per-pupil allowance regardless of which public school district the student resides. The public school district in which a student is enrolled receives from the state of Michigan the per-pupil allowance for that child. The non-resident student enrollment at SJPS enrollment is approximately 23%. The total SJPS resident enrollment is approximately 2,270 students. Total resident enrollment has declined over the years due to falling birth rates and migration out of the county and state. SJPS has been able to maintain an enrollment of approximately 3,000 students by inviting non-resident students to enroll in SJPS. Using the current per pupil foundation allowance of $9,600 per student, each year SJPS receives from the state of Michigan approximately $6.5 million in operating revenue as a result of non-resident student enrollment. Over the years, this additional funding has enabled SJPS to maintain and expand high-quality academic and extracurricular programs and services despite a loss of revenue due to declining resident enrollment. By enrolling non-resident students, SJPS is able to reach an enrollment level that enhances our ability to offer programs, curriculum, facilities, and services that we would otherwise be unable to fund and provide. With families from surrounding communities choosing to attend SJPS, our programs continue to be recognized at the highest level of state achievement. Total enrollment at SJPS has remained between 2,850 and 3,000 students over the past 10 years. During that same time period, enrollment of resident students in the district declined by approximately 600 to 700 students. The declining enrollment is due to declining birth rates and migration out of the county and the state of Michigan. Most districts across the state have experienced this same declining enrollment trend. When a district experiences declining enrollment, funding also decreases. With decreased funding, a district is unable to offer the quantity and quality of programs and opportunities to its students. To ensure SJPS funding was not negatively impacted by the decline in resident enrollment, the district increased the number of available spaces for the enrollment of non-resident students. This enabled the district to maintain enrollment at approximately 2,950 students over the past 10 years, thereby maintaining its funding levels and high quality programming and opportunities for students.
  • Does the School of Choice program at SJPS increase class sizes at SJPS?
    Not necessarily. Sometimes, additional enrollees generate enough revenue to permit the creation of another section of a grade level, thereby reducing class size in each of the remaining sections of that grade level. For instance, if there were 60 students in 4th grade and two sections, section sizes would be 30 students each. If 10 additional students enrolled in 4th grade, enough revenue would be generated to support adding a section at that grade level. With three sections for 70 students, section sizes would be 23, 23, and 24, rather than 30 students per section if no additional students were enrolled.
  • How do I register to vote?
    Visit www.michigan.gov/vote to register to vote online. If you are registering by mail, your voter registration application must be received or postmarked at least 15 days before the election. Individuals may also register in-person at their local clerk’s office through Election Day, with the required documentation. For assistance in obtaining the address of your local clerk, visit www.michigan.gov/vote.
  • Are owners of property in the school district eligible to vote if they do not reside in the school district?
    Owners of property are only eligible to vote if they reside within the school district boundaries. To be eligible to register to vote you must be: A Michigan resident (at the time of registration) and a resident of one’s city or township within the district boundaries for at least 30 days (when voting) A United States citizen At least 18 years of age (when voting) Not currently serving a sentence in jail or prison
  • If I rent a house, can I vote?
    Yes, if you rent a house within the district as your residence, you can still vote. You must be a registered voter in the city or township in which you are living and reside within the school district’s boundaries.
  • How is an absentee voter ballot obtained?
    Registered voters must complete and submit the application to receive an absentee voter ballot. To vote by mail, fill out the application and sign it, and then return it to your local clerk. For assistance in obtaining the address of your local clerk, visit www.michigan.gov/vote. When filling out the application, check the appropriate box to be added to the permanent absentee voter list. In doing so, an application will be mailed to you before every election. If you registered to vote after absentee voter ballot applications were mailed, applications may be obtained at www.michigan.gov/vote.
  • What are the key dates leading up to the May 7, 2024 election day?
    Registering to vote: The last day for voters to register by mail is April 22, 2024 Voters may register in-person through Tuesday, May 7, 2023 (election day) with the required documentation Absentee Voting: Absentee voter ballots are available for the general public as early as March 28, 2024 until May 7, 2024 Contact your local clerk with questions
  • Where and when will the vote occur?
    Tuesday, May 7, 2024, is election day, but absentee and early voting can occur leading up to that date. All registered voters may cast an absentee voter ballot by mail. Voters may also cast a ballot at the polling location established by their city/township. If you have questions or do not know where you vote, please contact your city or township office.
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