Over 500 Million Reasons to Vote NO to the Millage on November 8

by Rob Montilla on November 6, 2011

On Tuesday, November 8, Macomb County will vote on the “Special Education Operating Millage Proposal” as placed on the ballot by the Macomb Intermediate School District (MISD).

Here are some numbers to consider for the proposal…

  • 1.2 mills – the increase on taxable property in the MISD area which covers the county’s 21 public school districts.
  • 20 years – the length in time of the millage.
  • 40.8% – the percentage increase over the current MISD mil rate of 2.943.
  • $60 – the tax increase for every $50,000 in taxable value
  • $206 – the amount per student school districts will receive if the millage passes.
  • $27 million – the approximate amount the millage would raise in the first year it is levied (2011).
  • $540 million – the full amount Macomb County property owners will pay for this tax assuming the total amount raised is consistent over the life of the millage.

The purpose of the millage is described as helping the special needs children in the county.  However, the MISD goes on to advertise that the millage benefits all the children in the county.  This is exemplified by detailing how each district will receive $206 per student.  If funding will be provided for all the children, this is NOT a millage just for Special Education but a general education funding millage.

The MISD claims the millage is needed to offset a loss of $103 million annually to the Macomb schools.  Michigan Capitol Confidential, a public policy think tank, has disputed this amount as well as the claim by the MISD that staff have “taken wage cuts, wage freezes and reductions in benefits.

If the goal was simply to aid the special needs children, the MISD could have structured the millage differently.  A 3 to 5 year millage for a smaller amount with the specific focus to solely fund the special needs programs would have been more appropriate to this aim.  But when coupled with the description of offsetting losses of $103 million, the true intent of this measure as an elaborate method to channel money to all the districts is hard to deny.

Click here for analysis on how the money will be moved through the MISD to the school districts.

In trying to understand the reason for the significant length of the millage, Ronald Roberts, superintendent of the Chippewa Valley Schools, described the length as a result of the uncertainty of future education funding.  But isn’t the Macomb County population as a whole facing uncertainty in today’s economic climate?  In a time where many residents are still uncertain how long they may have their jobs or homes, should education funding be insulated from these factors?  Or should the school districts have to make changes to reflect the reality in the communities around them?

As to the specific amount of 1.2 mills, Mr. Roberts said he believed this was the highest amount polling showed the voters might approve.  Does this sound like a millage to get needed funding or to get desired funding to satisfy the education special interests?

When school districts ask for a half  billion dollars, the public needs to understand what is really involved in a lot more detail than is being provided and why the money is needed in these difficult economic times.  Curiously, the MISD has avoided broader public discussion by cancelling board meetings in the run up to the election.  They also avoided having a debate on the merits of the millage with the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, a taxpayer watchdog group opposed to the millage.  Why would they not want to debate the merits of the millage if it is so beneficial to the community?

Millage literature touts the revenue increases as “for the children” and states the districts have conducted cuts.  But have the districts done enough on spending reforms before asking the taxpayers for more funds?  Here are some items to consider in terms of spending cuts and revenue generation:

The Michigan Taxpayers Alliance noted there are 921 public school employees in the county making over $100,000 per year in total compensation.  It is debatable how much salary and benefit reform can be applied without sacrificing education quality.  But consider that many of these highly compensated people are the ones advocating for this millage in Macomb County where the per capita income is $24,446.

As a community we can agree that we need a strong education foundation to prepare our children for the challenges of the future.  However, it does not mean a blank check for school districts.  The onus is on them to make a specific case to the public, demonstrating they have done all they can to avert disaster in educational programs, special needs or otherwise.  This case has not been made.

If you want accountability in all government funding, including education, then this is your chance to make your voice heard.

Insist on spending reform – Vote NO on November 8

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