Last November, almost half the schools in Michigan were unsuccessful at getting voters to approve their bond proposals. That included Kalkaska, Traverse City and Elk Rapids, all of which lost by a narrow margin. Elk Rapids Public Schools is back with the exact same proposal—$10.9 million over 20 years—on next week’s ballot.
Seventh grader Rebecca Marolf is excited about the idea of a new gymnasium. She’s with her dad at the Elk Rapids High School boys’ basketball game. The Cherryland Middle School student thinks the district needs another gym.
“I’m so excited to get a new gym and everything,” she says. “Because some nights I have to stay up real late doing my homework and I don’t get enough gym time and things like that.”
The current gym is more than 40 years old. The proposed gym would not replace it, but be an additional one. Rebecca’s dad, Lin Marolf, says as a parent and youth basketball coach, he sees the need firsthand.
“All my daughters, because of lack of gym room, they get home late. They have to schedule late practices, and they’re up very late at night doing homework,” he says. “It creates a lot of conflict in the community: boys competing against the girls, and other sports competing against sports. It’s way overdue. The facilities are old. They’re some of the oldest in the district.”
A slim majority rejected the proposal in November. Amy Grzesiak’s children went to Elk Rapid schools and her granddaughter currently attends, but she isn’t sure about everything in the proposal.
“My only thought was maybe they’re going for too much. I think it’s a big thing to hit people with,” she says. “If they could maybe taper it down and just get the really essentials that we have to have, not that things that we want to have cause there’s always something we want.”
The school is asking for a new gym, security system upgrades and athletic improvements. Grzesiak is undecided and thinks the increase could be a hardship on some.
“Our incomes aren’t that bad. It wouldn’t up our taxes that much. But I’m just thinking of people with children. If their [paychecks] are being cut back, gas prices are going up, groceries keep going up. I don’t know if they’re ready for another millage increase.”
The district currently has one of the lowest millages in the area. Elk Rapids Public Schools superintendent Steve Prissel acknowledges any tax increase will be questioned.
“It’s no secret our economy has hit families and hit people hard,” he says. “And so, any increase in our tax is going to be scrutinized, and it should be. And I’m proud of our community for scrutinizing what’s on the ballot at this point for the second time.”
He expects a different result at the polls this time.
“We feel confident going into this. We felt confident last time though however.”
Alanson and Manton school districts also have new measures on the ballot. Voters will decide on Tuesday, Feb. 25.