Win some, lose some: Getting local voters to pay more for schools

child counting money

Voters weren’t terribly excited about millage increases to help fund schools after the 2009 recession. But interest has picked up lately in parts of Michigan.

Since a 1997 law took effect allowing Intermediate School Districts to levy a tax for local school operations, voters have issued mixed verdicts, approving six measures over two decades. They were recently approved in Kent and Wayne counties. Here are four other places where voters approved regional millage increases:

  • Monroe ISD became the first to pass an enhanced millage, as voters approved a five-year, 0.99-mill tax increase for technology in 1997. It was renewed in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.

  • Voters in the Kalamazoo RESA approved a three-year, 1.5-mill tax increase in 2005 to fund general operations for local districts. It was renewed in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2017.

  • In the Midland ISD, voters in 2009 approved a 1.5 mill tax hike for five years to fund general operations. Voters renewed it in 2014.

  • Muskegon ISD voters in 2014 approved a 10-year tax hike of 1 mill for security and technology improvements in local districts.

But voters rejected millage hikes elsewhere, including:

  • In the Livingston Educational Service Agency east of Lansing, voters in 2005 rejected by a two-to-one margin a 3-mill tax hike for three years to fund general operations in the region’s five school districts.

  • In February 2013, the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District in the northeastern Lower Peninsula gambled that voters would approve the maximum increase allowed, a 3-mill tax hike for 10 years. They rejected it three to one.

A district newsletter following the election summarized the consequences: “The overall message was clearly heard. Schools must ‘make do,’ finding ways to deliver the best education possible with the resources in hand.”

Months later, Alpena Public Schools imposed a 10-percent pay cut on all district employees including administrators, teachers, custodial workers, bus drivers, instructional aide and non-union staff as it faced a budget deficit of more than $1 million.

Before that, the district closed four elementary schools and cut teaching staff from about 325 to 202 today, as enrollment fell by a third from 1994 to 2017. As a stopgap measure, it’s deferring needed maintenance on roofs and boilers and the purchase of new textbooks.

RELATED: With little help from Lansing, schools raise money from local taxpayers

 
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duane
Tue, 06/13/2017 - 2:25pm

The one thing omitted from this article and it seems every other article about money for 'education' is student learning/results.

I wonder why the authors of the articles about educational spending/taxing don't show any interest in the learning results of the students or why some schools/students in those Intermediate School Districts are succeeding academically and others are failing, and most are in between.

Anonymous
Tue, 06/13/2017 - 7:26pm

Because they all know the testing is worthless. It's a money scam.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:27pm

Duane makes an excellent point. This article concentrates entirely on inputs and has absolutely nothing to say about outputs. And, after all, that is what is important. Yet Mr. Roelofs has nothing to say about how the cuts affected academic performance. He says, "Alpena Public Schools imposed a 10-percent pay cut on all district employees including administrators, teachers, custodial workers, bus drivers, instructional aide and non-union staff as it faced a budget deficit of more than $1 million.

Before that, the district closed four elementary schools and cut teaching staff from about 325 to 202 today, as enrollment fell by a third from 1994 to 2017. As a stopgap measure, it’s deferring needed maintenance on roofs and boilers and the purchase of new textbooks." Obviously, with enrollment falling by a third, the budget needed to be cut, but he says nothing about the efficacy of the cuts. Were they well done? What was the distribution of the cuts between fixed and variable costs? How much was the budget actually cut in response to the one third drop in enrollment?

It is the relationship between inputs and outputs that citizens need to be informed about in order to make good judgments about how well the district is being run, but of course Mr. Roelofs was more interested in generating support for more generous funding rather than providing that information.

Chris Carpenter
Wed, 06/14/2017 - 2:37am

It is interesting that when the Millage was 1.5 or less in above examples, they passed - but when they got greedy and went for 3 mills , they were soundly defeated. It seems like best strategy would be to keep them between .99 to 1.5 Mills!

Barry Visel
Thu, 06/15/2017 - 7:39pm

A little research on these votes by school district might prove interesting. In Kalamazoo County, the KRESA millage is basically passed by the two largest districts, Kalamazoo and Portage, and is generally defeated by the remaining smaller districts. In effect, this becomes a form of taxation without representation...our district votes "no" but we get taxed anyway. So why do we become cynical about government, one might ask.