School district millages highlight May 7 ballot

MARQUETTE – Several area school districts will look to the voters Tuesday to renew their current operational millages or to approve sinking fund millages.

As part of Proposal A – which shifted school funding in 1994 to include a larger percentage of state aid, in lieu of property taxes – Michigan school districts have been collecting up to 18 mills on all non-homestead properties, such as businesses or second homes, for their operating budgets.

These operational millages have been used by districts to pay for the general operating expenses of their schools – things like utility bills and salaries and benefits for employees.

Built into Proposal A was a 20-year timeline for the operational millage, meaning it is set to expire at the end of the year.

Most school districts are looking to renew the millage before its expiration date.

As a result of the 1978 Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution, many districts will also ask voters for a renewal of more than 18 mills.

The amendment requires local units of government to reduce their millage rates when annual growth on existing property is more than the rate of inflation.

However, school districts are allowed to restore their Headlee reductions by asking voters to raise their mill rates, though they will never collect more than 18 mills.

The following is a list of area school districts that will have operational millage renewal requests and/or sinking fund millage requests on Tuesday’s special election ballot.

Negaunee Public Schools

Looking for a renewal of its current 18.9169 operational millage for the next 10 years, Negaunee Public Schools is hoping to retain the same level of funding currently approved by voters.

“The residents of Negaunee Schools have always been supportive of the educational process and we’re hoping and anticipating they will continue to support us by approving this millage Tuesday,” said Superintendent Jim Derocher.

The millage accounts for roughly $1.5 million – or 12.5 percent – of the district’s overall annual operating budget.

NICE Community Schools

Along with a request to renew its current 18.4887 operational millage for the next 10 years, NICE Community Schools will also ask voters to approve a 1.75 mills sinking fund millage.

“It gives us an opportunity to do things that otherwise, we might have to put off for quite a long time or maybe not be able to do at all,” DeAugustine said.

The request will mirror the district’s current sinking fund millage, which also levies 1.75 mills. It is set to expire this year.

In the past, NICE schools has used its sinking fund to renovate the science wing in Westwood High School and will look to furnish its buildings with new electronic security systems over the summer.

DeAugustine said projects slated for completion using the new sinking fund – if it were approved by voters – would include bathroom renovations, kitchen upgrades, window and exterior door renovations as well as expansions to accommodate the rising enrollment in the district’s younger grades, among other things.

The sinking fund helps keep the district’s buildings maintained well, so major problems can be prevented, rather than fixed, DeAugustine said.

The district is also looking to renew its operational millage, which accounts for roughly 17 percent of its operating budget.

DeAugustine called the renewal “vitally important.”

“We appreciate the community’s support,” he said. “They’ve supported the millages in the past and it’s been to the great benefit of the students at NICE Community Schools.”

Republic-Michigamme Schools

Voters in the Republic-Michigamme Schools district will be asked to renew its current operational millage of 19.1244 mills for the next 20 years.

Residents will also vote on millage levied on principal residence and other property otherwise exempted by law of 4.1072 mills for 20 years.

Superior Central Schools

A sinking fund millage request for 2.5 mills for 10 years will be on the ballot for those within the boundaries of Superior Central Schools.

Superintendent John Peterson said the fund would be used to replace the school’s roof, upgrade to energy efficient doors, renovate locker rooms and restrooms and upgrade and maintain things like heating units, sidewalks and classroom floors.

Peterson said the sinking fund, rather than a bond, allows the district to pay for these projects as they go at no interest to taxpayers.

“On a $4 million bond, you pay back $6 million,” Peterson said. “To me, that didn’t seem like a really good deal.”

The millage would levy $170,000 annually.

“When I was at Big Bay De Noc (Community College), I spearheaded the sinking fund project down there,” Peterson said. “I know first-hand how well a sinking fund can keep a district up, physically.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.