By Brian A Stone – YAN – DEARBORN
For the first time in several decades, Dearborn voters shot down a school bond proposal Tuesday in a vote that has citizens and the district officials asking, “What’s next?”
The bond proposal, which was started by an infrastructure task force and then adopted by the Dearborn board of education and put on the November ballot, would have created a new bond for $240 million to update aging infrastructure. The structure of the bond was planned so that as older bonds expired and the millage rate decreased, the new bond would fill in the gap, making it so the millage rate stayed the same.
However, Dearborn Parents for Better Schools, the political action committee that formed to oppose the bond effort, drew a line in the sand on the issue of taxation, and hotly contested school district claims that they weren’t raising new taxes. The overall debate had the opposition claiming the district lacked transparency and that the taxes were too much, while the pro-bond effort, led by the political action committee Citizens for Dearborn Schools, focused on the list of upgrades which schools would receive if the bond was passed.
While the “No” votes did win on election day, the biggest divide was with absentee voters, who broke more strongly against the bond. The current election results from the Wayne County Clerk’s office have the Yes vote at 6,782 or 48% to the No vote at 7,252 or approximately 52% – with absentee voters making up about 25% of the overall vote. While some have said the turnout was “low” at approximately 20%, the turnout was twice what some political analysts had predicted prior to the election.
“With voter turnout almost triple of that expected, the voters spoke loud and clear demanding transparency, accountability and real solutions for our schools both short term and long term,” said Dearborn Parents for Better Schools on their official Facebook page. “The work will now begin to ensure that the residents, school board and administration work collectively to find progressive and fiscally sound solutions for the challenges facing our schools.”
While no official precinct breakdown has been given yet, many observers said that voters appeared divided evenly on the issue regardless of race, income or location on election day. The issue of how much taxes were too much, and what upgrades were necessary, became a focal point of the campaign.
What remains to be seen is how this will impact the school district and whether future bonds will be put forward, or the money taken from the general fund. Mary Kubicek, an English teacher at Dearborn High School, expressed that she’s concerned about where money will come from.
“Money will have to come from the general fund, which is where my salary comes from,” said Kubicek.
Kubicek said she worked the polls on behalf of the bond effort on Tuesday, and spoke with voters coming into the polls, “There’s a teaching shortage. We need to attract teachers… roofing and heating repairs will have to be repaired no matter what.”
The tenor of the debate coming from everyday citizens also hit a low during the campaign, with a social media debate that frequently got personal.
Meredith Gorden, a lifelong Dearborn resident and insurance broker, was threatened by an individual online after expressing that she supported the bond effort. The individual called her boyfriend, Patrick Holliday, who said this individual told him, “Let your girlfriend know I’m serious about talking to her workplace,” after threatening to call her employer and get her fired.
Holliday said he tried to mollify the individual, who is not being named because he could not be reached for comment in time for deadline, but the individual called Meredith Gordon’s employer anyway and tried to get her reprimanded for her online comments in support of the bond.
“I have never had something like this happen to me before. I felt threatened, kind of afraid,” said Gorden. “I’ve always had so much love for this city and for the first time I’m starting to feel like I’m not welcome.”
Fatooma Saad, a Marine Corps veteran and also a lifelong Dearborn resident, said she felt bullied by many of the online comments she saw after expressing support of the bond effort.
“I was accused of living in Northville. They even questioned my patriotism,” said Saad. “I felt like I had an obligation to speak loudly and often to counteract the bullying that I was seeing.”
However, accusations of bullying ran across both sides, with some opponents of the bond effort claiming on social media that members of the pro-bond effort were rude and unkind as well.
With a divided electorate, it remains to be seen if the school district will come back with a smaller bond proposal during the 2020 election cycle, or whether they will come back with a new proposal at all. The soonest the district can place a new bond issue on the ballot would be during the 2020 presidential primary election on March 10th.