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Controversy over Galesburg-Augusta bond proposal for new stadium

State data show lackluster student performance as district asks for $16.5 million
Posted at 6:46 PM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 20:04:06-04

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — Bond proposals typically don’t generate a whole lot of controversy in local elections, but Gary Gillette thinks that might be because people aren’t looking deep enough at what’s on their ballot.

Gillette has lived in the Galesburg-Augusta Community School district for 36 years and is getting tired of being asked to pay for things he says aren’t getting a return on investment.

Namely, Gillette takes issue with the bond proposal on the upcoming Nov. 2 ballot — a $16 million ask from the school district, over one third of which will go toward a new athletic stadium.

After looking at the school’s performance over the past decade-plus, it’s not something Gillette wants to pay for, and he’s now spending his own money on an opposition campaign to convince others of the same.

“I had no idea it was this bad, no idea whatsoever,” Gillette said, speaking to FOX 17 on Thursday. “The argument from the school board has been 'we need this money and these facilities, whatever they are, in order to improve things in the schools.' But the problem is, the academic performance hasn’t improved in at least 15 years.”

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Gillette got curious, so he logged onto the Michigan Department of Education’s data page and plugged in the Galesburg-Augusta district. What he found astounded him. Going as far back as 2010, Gillette discovered that the district’s high school students, on average, were just 30% proficient in science and just 24% proficient in math. The district’s middle school students were on average just 35% proficient in English, 23% proficient in math, and 20% proficient in science.

It has him and others — he’s seen at least one other opposition mailer he didn’t send out — pondering if this is the right time for a football stadium.

“Before I’m going to give you any more, I’m going to need to see some results,” said Gillette. “The Galesburg Board of Education, that’s their name. The word ‘education’ is in that name. It’s not the Galesburg-Augusta Board of fun and games, sports, or anything else; it’s education. And they’re not doing the job that they’re there to do, which is to educate these kids.”

Galesburg-Augusta Superintendent Wendy Somers says while $5.88 million of that $16.5 million proposal will go toward the 50-year-old stadium, it’s not just about that. The proposal also seeks to spend $4.26 million on an addition to the primary school and $6.37 million on a multipurpose addition to the high school.

“It isn’t just reading and math that make a successful adult,” said Somers. “So, we’re looking at all aspects of 'how do we increase that achievement overall?'.”

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Somers also notes, after five decades with a dilapidated field, no concession stands, ADA approved bathrooms, or a track for home meets, the stadium is long past due.

“That increases a student’s sense of pride, esteem, and those things all contribute to academic success. So it is an investment in academic success. It’s an investment in kids,” she said. “It’s also about safety…what we have now does not support track, does not support soccer; a marching band can barely march on it. It’s not safe.”

Gillette can appreciate that, but thinks students are being shortchanged in the classroom. Somers wouldn’t say if they would bring the proposal back around another time if it fails on Tuesday, but Gillette just wants people to pay more attention to their bond proposals and their potential return on investment, so to speak.

“The thing I would like to see most in this election is a massive turnout,” he said. “Because we need to settle this issue, one way or the other, this time.”

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