If you go to West Ottawa, odds are you’re reading this article on a Chromebook. You have the 2014 bond to thank for that, and progress has started on a new bond. On Monday, September 24, West Ottawa school district held a community forum to discuss the progress made on that 2014 bond that added Chromebooks, renovated the pool, and developed new playgrounds, among other improvements. They also held the forum to explore the possibility of proposing a new bond for the upcoming years. There are no plans yet what to add or renovate in the district, but as Superintendent Tom Martin said “To stay competitive, I think it’s time to do something with an athletics stadium and I think it’s time to do something with the performing arts center.”
The possibility of a new bond comes off of the success of the last one that gave the district $90 million. The district says they used what they learned in the 2014 bond to to consider how to approach a possible bond in the future. “Last time, we were able to generate $90 million without increasing the millage rate. That can happen again; we can get $95 keeping that millage rate just level,” Martin said. In other words, West Ottawa can get all of the money for the bond without increasing the property taxes. This would most likely increase the probability of a bond being passed.
West Ottawa has also started to gauge the public opinion of a new bond with the use of polls. “We polled on several issues, and after sharing the content of what would be in the bond, 73% approved.” said Martin. According to Martin, the [possibilities shared with the public were a new athletic stadium, a performing arts center at the north building, and another $9 million dollars toward educational equipment. “We will probably put out there $130-140 million dollars worth of needs and then… get consensus around what ought to be included.” Weighing public opinion has been very important to the bond process at West Ottawa. Through polling, they were able to decide back in 2014 where they would spend their money and where they would wait.
“What we learned, was (to) listen to the community.” Martin said. Martin has learned from both the district’s success and failures in order to structure a bond to get passed. He referenced the 2011 bond proposal he described as “ugly” due to its 63% opposal rate. He attributes this to the increase in millage rate and lack of communication with the community. Those factors are what he said conversely allowed the 2014 bond to pass.
For Martin, a future bond could be one of his last marks on the district. “I’m in my last few years here, and I’d really like to get this last one done, before I sail off into retirement.” The bond obviously means a lot to both the district and Martin himself. A new bond proposal would be his second during his time at the district and the experience West Ottawa has learned along the way makes them feel confident about their ability to get it passed. “I think we’re doing it about as well as you can do it.”
It’s clear that West Ottawa is prepared for all that could result from a new bond both economically and for the school. Martin and the district understand the risks involved with proposing a bond and if it were to fail, it wouldn’t be for another few years until a new bond could even be considered. “It’s the kind of the thing that if you don’t do it, you don’t survive,” Martin said.
The next forum will be held on November 5.