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Bessemer board of education pushes pending millage


April 18, 2019


Bessemer — More than a dozen local citizens gathered Tuesday evening at A.D. Johnston Junior andHigh School in Bessemer for an informational session on a continuing millage proposed by the Bessemer Area Board of Education.

Superintendent Dave Wineburner led the session, which consisted of him narrating a related slide show and then opening the floor to questions.

The event in the school’s multipurpose room was offered as a venue in which to explain why the board is asking for residents to support a 2.05 mill bond measure in a May 7 election.

The proposed 12-year millage would follow the Bessemer Area School District’s existing millage to pay off outstanding bonds. According to Wineburner, the current millage will be paid off by April 24, and the pending millage will not exceed the current rate.

Hence, one of the superintendent’s slides emphasized “no increase on current taxes.”

Another slide pushed community pride by displaying a photo of Bessemer students holding a sign stating “We are Bessemer.”

In addition, one slide featured only the number 484 in huge print, with small letters underneath stating “the number of students we serve.”

The superintendent said the total includes a combination of students at A.D. Johnston, as well as at Washington Elementary School, along with about 50 variously-aged students from the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District.

According to Wineburner, parents really like that the Bessemer district has two separate schools. Beyond that, he said the school has a great reputation.

“We outscore Ironwood,” he said. “We outscore Wakefield-Marenisco. We are the premier school district. We are the top academic school in this area.”

If citizens vote to pass the new millage, it will translate to $1.3 million, which Wineburner said will be split roughly between the two schools.

He said roofing projects will be a priority. “We have three roofs that need to be replaced at Washington Elementary,” said the superintendent. “They are leaking into the building.”

Wineburner said the poor condition of the roofs, which are outside of their warranties, has necessitated placing buckets to catch rain on the third floor.

He also showed slide photos from both schools of crumbling foundations, as well as images of boiler systems that he said need replacement of pricy, internal tubes.

Wineburner said the district has been “very proactive” in seeking, as well as finding, solutions for its ongoing needs.

He added, however, that the substantial needs now on hold require significant relief.

Among other issues are security and technological needs in both schools, a new parking lot for Washington Elementary School, and upgrades in ADJ’s gym, known as the House of Noise.

The superintendent said construction of a bus garage is also important, so as to protect the “significant investment” of buses that cost about $85,000 each.

During audience questions, Mary Jo Mykkanen asked whether the board has considered using county garage space to store buses.

However, board treasurer Jim Partanen said the board checked out a number of existing buildings, including county space, and found none of it feasible. He and Wineburner said other buildings either posed liability issues or catastrophic renovation costs.

Mykkanen also asked whether the board has considered contracting out bus service, and board member Richard Matrella said research on that a few years ago showed that costs would be too steep.

Paul Steiger asked about potential consolidation with the Wakefield-Marenisco School District, but Wineburner said the most recent push for consolidation a few years ago resulted in going “nowhere.”

The superintendent added of local citizens, “There was no interest in pursuing that.” Moreover, he said the long-term projection of Bessemer’s enrollment figures “looks to stay level.”

Debra Janczak asked whether a breakdown of the costs per project could be put on the district’s website, and Wineburner replied, “Absolutely.”

Matrella said one difference between the current millage initiative versus a similar one that occurred in the early 1990s is in the accountability of each step in the process.

Back then, he said there was no mandate for expert designation of project oversight. “Now, it’s required,” he said.

After the meeting, Wineburner told the Globe that Integrated Designs, Inc. in Marquette already is in charge of the current project. He said the company calculated estimates and, if the millage is funded, IDI also will handle bids and will continue to steer the entirety of the project.

Wineburner said he hopes pending millage projects will begin in the fall of this year and then conclude by the fall of 2020.

Tuesday evening’s session was not the last effort of the district to market the continuing millage. “We’re going to be making a big push here,” Wineburner told Tuesday’s audience.

He said there will be more information to come on Facebook and the district’s website, as well as in notes to parents and door-to-door communication.

The superintendent half-kidded that district officials will be “standing on the corner by the Post Office — whatever we have to do.”

According to a flyer provided by the board, the proposed 2.05 mills translates to estimated annual taxes of $205 per year for a home value of $100,000 or $51.25 per year for a home valued at $25,000.

Tuesday night’s event was the second of two informational sessions held by the board. An April 9 session was held last week in Ramsay, but it closed down within 15 minutes when nobody attended.


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