Failed millage bid puts school districts in even tighter straits

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The millage did not pass.

An Enhancement Millage bid fronted by the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District was turned down by voters in Big Rapids, Chippewa Hills, Evart, Morley Stanwood, and Reed City school districts by a margin of 416 votes, and planners for each of the districts are now left trying to figure their next move.

The proposed millage was suggested to help districts cover operational expenses — and only operational expenses.

Operational expenditures could include, (but not exclusively), spending on such items as school buses, building and structure repairs or renovations, physical plant upgrades, and furnishings as needed.

The 0.75 mill tax might have raised a total of $7.26 million for local school districts over the next five years.

In The Evart Public Schools district, it is estimated the amount of operational funding that could have been raised by this millage would be approximately $183,857.

In the Reed City Area Public Schools district, officials believed $269,073 would have been raised for operational needs if the millage was passed.

Any funding raised through the proposed millage would have been used entirely, wholly, and solely for operational needs of the district.

Not one penny would be used for salaries, benefits, or perks.

Under the Regional Enhancement Millage, a homeowner would have paid $37.50 each year for a home with a taxable value of $50,000.

During weeks leading up to the vote, information was spread around the MOISD district suggesting home owners would see an increase of $1,000+ per year on their tax bill if the millage passed.

“That’s just too bad,” responded Reed City Area Public Schools district superintendent. “That is not only untrue, but it is wildly inaccurate.”

Using the formula of $37.50 for a $100,000 home with a taxable value of $50,000, those spreading misinformation about a $1,000 increase would have been suggesting the MOISD had an abundance of homes valued at $9,994,668.

That simply isn’t the case.

Nevertheless, what to do now?

District officials know the issues that might have been dealt with through funding generated by the Enhancement Millage will not simply go away.

“I am absolutely disappointed,” reported Howard Hyde.

“Now we are going to need to figure out how to put a new roof over the gymnasium at the high school.

“We still need buses, and will most likely start looking for used stock.

“We spend $30-40,000 per year just in repairing buses. We’ll need to keep doing that with money from somewhere else.

“Our options are very limited. The money we use on operational expenses must be taken from someplace. Now, it will probably be shifted from other funds within the district, and it will be shifted at the expense of programs and staff.”

Hyde noted that some of the expenses that would have been covered by the Enhancement Millage funding involved repairs that can not be delayed - or repairs that simply get more expensive as they are delayed while waiting for some funding to be found.

What’s worse, there needs to be a trade-off.

The cost of a new roof on the gym in Evart is virtually equal to the salary and benefits package of a new teacher.

It is a very uncomfortable trade-off for educational planners.

“We’re going to need to figure what can be put off, and what can be delayed without actually incurring more expense than before,”’ continued Hyde.

“The whole situation is disappointing.”

Still, the message was clear - Property owners in the MOISD districts did not want to pay $37 or $74 a year in support of public education.

“The message to us was obviously negative,” noted Hyde.

“It’s pretty clear that people did not see this as a needed investment in their community.

“Honestly, I just don’t know where we go from here.”

In Reed City, superintendent Steven Westhoff was similarly disappointed, and also is already casting for alternative funding options.

“The needs we have are obviously not going to go away,” he said.

Westhoff plans on asking his Board of Education members to reinstate a Capital Projects Improvement Fund which held $75,000 for special projects in need of immediate care.  While, $75,000 will not “cut it” with regard to outstanding operational expenses, Westhoff plans to ask his board to increase the fund to $200,000.

“Even this probably will still not be enough to meet our operational needs,” he said.

“In addition, we will be making more cuts to both programs and staff.

“That is all we can do in order to keep our program alive - in order to survive.”

Repairs need to be made and buses need to be purchased in order to keep our program up and running.

This will now need to come at the expense of something else in the budget.

“If the money is not going to paid for through the proposed millage, it will need to be taken from somewhere else,” said Westhoff.

“We had a bus taken off the road last week because of significant rust on the underbody. It will need to be replaced ...or not.

“The problems remain - with or without the millage.”

Westhoff is mildly fatalistic.

“We will do what we can,” he said.

“We know repairs coming up at the middle school could well cost us between $415,000-420,000 ...in today’s dollars.

“We will try to plan for this need in future budgets.

“But where we will take the money?

“I don’t know.”