By Lonnie Huhman,
The upcoming Aug. 6 vote is a big one for High Point School, which is located in Scio Township and serves all of Washtenaw County.
A special election will be held that day throughout Washtenaw County on a bonding proposal issued by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. The bond is asking for $53,295,000 over 10 years, which is an estimated 0.37 mill increase, to reconstruct a new High Point School for students with the most significant needs receiving special education services.
Pass or fail, High Point will undergo a major overhaul no matter what because it is needed, according to the WISD.
In giving some background about the school and its needs, the Sun Times News reached out to Ashley Kryscynski, the Communications and Public Relations Specialist for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.
She said High Point opened in 1975 and is now specifically, “dedicated to meeting the specialized needs of students with disabilities from ages 3 through 26 and most students attend for up to 23 years.”
In the state of Michigan, public schools are mandated to provide education to special education students through age 26, and High Point School provides this and more to students with significant medical, emotional, physical, and cognitive needs so they can experience enriching social, physical, and educational opportunities to meet their full potential, according to Kryscynski.
“It provides programming for students with severe cognitive and multiple impairments,” Kryscynski said. “High Point’s students come from all nine public school districts across Washtenaw County, and in addition to their academic learning, High Point also offers occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, a school psychologist, social work, music therapy, adaptive aquatic therapy, adaptive physical education, consultation with medical specialists, and access to other consultants as needed for our students.”
She said the overhaul of High Point, “is needed because the current facility was built to serve an entirely different population of students with disabilities than is currently served.”
High Point was originally developed for students with more mild disabilities who came to the school for vocational and career training, according to Kryscynski.
She said today, most of High Point’s students are in wheelchairs and the current layout of the building presents challenges, to say the least.
In a tour of the building, one will notice that each classroom is shaped differently and of a different size, hallways and doorways are too narrow for student wheelchairs and multi-classroom traffic, and the school lacks adequate space for all of its students’ equipment, which often includes medical needs.
With the challenges, the school has found ways to get by and fulfill their important mission
“High Point school is the only educational program in Washtenaw County with the capacity to educate students with significant medical, emotional, physical and cognitive needs,” Kryscynski said.
The importance of the school was made clear when two parents of students shared with The Sun Times how special High Point is for them and their families.
“Attending High Point School has given Lily the opportunity to interact with others in a way that was not accessible to her before,” said Nicole Balensiefer, mother of Lily, who’s a five-year-old student and has been at High Point for two years.
“She is able to fulfill her needs for social interaction while spending time in an environment that encourages her to learn and grow. She has made many strides in gross and fine motor skills, and she has access to tools and equipment that she would not have at other schools. High Point School has not only been a place for Lily to go and learn every day. It has given Lily and our family a community, a place where we are understood and feel that we belong,” Balensiefer said. “Prior to attending High Point, we were fairly isolated, but that all has changed in these last 2 years. The relationships that we have formed because of this school are priceless and have been vital in improving the quality of Lily’s life.”
Andi Spengler, mother of Emma, who is 11-years-old, said. “Because of the MOVE curriculum (which stands for “Mobility Opportunities Via Education/Experience”) and the staff at High Point, our daughter is now able to walk, which is something we never imagined would happen. We’ve even been able to go to Disney World with her because of MOVE.”
If passed, Kryscynski said, “The bond could allow the WISD to be more intentional in designing a school building that meets the needs and enhances the lives of our students with the most severe disabilities for today and in the future.”
“In order to be as fiscally responsible as possible, we envision a new High Point School that is partially renovated and partially a new build,” she said. “We could keep the existing gymnasium and pool because those are the most expensive areas to rebuild. We would make any necessary renovations to the gym and pool and then build new around them.”
However, if the bond does not pass, she said then at minimum, “Approximately $18 million of renovations to the existing infrastructure, including HVAC and technology, would be necessary to continue operating the building as is for a population of students it wasn’t originally meant to serve. It would also not be as energy-efficient as a new building could be, which continues to increase costs in the long-term.”
In order to cover these renovation costs, the WISD said it, “would need to utilize funds from the Special Education operating millage. Using operating funds to pay for the cost of capital improvements reduces the amount of special education dollars available to reimburse local districts for the cost of mandatory special education services, thereby requiring a greater contribution from each district’s general fund to cover these costs.”
Here are the estimates, provided by the WISD, of how much the bond would cost homeowners:
Market Value Taxable Value Cost Annually
$100,000 $50,000 $18.50
$150,000 $75,000 $27.75
$200,000 $100,000 $37.00
$300,000 $150,000 $55.50