The Rapidian

GRPS Director of Communications explains major bond proposal up for vote on Tuesday, November 3

The $175 million dollar bond would renovate amd improve classrooms, buildings, and technology at local schools, says John Helmholdt, Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs at GRPS.
GRPS Choir Concert

GRPS Choir Concert /Erin Wilson

Underwriting support from:
GRPS Girls basketball game

GRPS Girls basketball game /Steven Depolo

The Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) bond proposal is up for a vote on November 3, 2015. The $175 million dollar bond proposal would add 2.1 mills to property tax bills, an annual cost of $103.50 for the owner of a $100,000 house, according to GRPS.  

“We’ve been working on this since April, and we have amassed one of the single most comprehensive list of endorsements I’ve ever seen, certainly in recent history, where you have labor and business, Republicans and Democrats, city, county [and] state officials. Groups that are rarely on the same endorsment lists are there together,” says John Helmholdt, Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs at GRPS.

“One thing that’s unique is the Grand Rapids Christian School board and the Grand Rapids Christian community- they endorsed it unanimously. That’s pretty unique. I mean technically we’re competitors, but we have such a great relationship.This is one of the first bond proposals the Christians school trustees have ever endorsed," says Helmholdt. "I think that speaks volumes.”

The bulk of the money will be going towards modernizing the city’s two big high schools, Union and Ottawa Hills. Union High would recieve 22 million and Ottawa Hills would receive 20 million.

“Union and Ottawa are getting the lion’s share of the bond. These buildings were built 50 years ago, so they’re not built to 21st century learning, technology and security standards," says Helmholdt. "Union High is an easy example. It has 70 entry and exit points. Most people think the main entrance is the student entrance and then you have to walk half a mile to the main office. This is not built to modern security standards. The bond will change that.”

The money raised will go for renovating classrooms, buildings, technology or all three in the district’s school buildings. Helmholdt notes that it’s not just about updating or security.

“The bond is as much about the Transformation Plan as anything else. We can’t implement phase two of the Transformation Plan without the passage of this bond," he says.

Helmholdt is also quick to note that GRPS has has their best count days in two decades in these last two years, and that the bond rating for GRPS improved from negative to stable in the midst of a recession and major state budget cuts.

“Because of our count, our bond rating might be upgraded further," he says. "Last spring, rated GRPS the most efficient school system in America.”

Proposed projects from stage two of the Transformation Plan that the bond would finance include fully implementing the Challenge Scholars plan at Harrison, Union, and Westwood, expand CA Frost Environmental Academy to a PK-12th grade school, expand Zoo School from 6th grade to a 6th-8th grade school, continue growing the new Grand Rapids Public Museum school and expand the Southwest Campus into a PK-12th grade school.

When asked about the city’s dismal economic statistics for African Americans and if the Transformation Plan addressed any of the metrics around racial equity, Helmholdt notes this is covered in the Transformation Plan as well.

“We’re in the process of hiring a new Talent Acquisitions Manager, a position that’s the first of its kind in the region. Their role is to visit HBCU and HIspanic/Latino, and urban centers to that we can recruit a diverse staff of teachers, administrators and support staff. Even with Proposal 2 in effect, we can still be intentional about hiring people of color,” he says. Helmholdt also mentions the “Grade school to Grad School” academic instructional program at Ottawa Hills with a focus on support from the community, and partnering with HBCUs to expose more students to higher education.

“We want to invest in what’s already working, invest in our talent and create stability and growth," he says. "These are the three pillars of the Transformation Plan. I think our endorsement list shows the unity, the alignment and the momentum. It’s one of these things that Theresa [Weatherall Neal], our superintendent has really done, is unite this community and unite the district.”

Helmholdt says he feels pretty good about the direction of the campaign and that right now it’s all about getting out the vote.

“We’ve been very good fiscal stewards and I believe the voters will affirm that,” he says.

A mailer, robo calls, phone banks, “get out the vote” stickers, as well as TV, radio and print ads are all set to make sure voters turn up on November 3.

Find your local polling location here.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.