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6/14/2017 12:01:00 AM
Intermediate School District survey shows support for 'enhancement millage' tax

Voters within the Char-Em Intermediate School District may have the opportunity to cast a ballot for a "regional enhancement millage" for local schools on November 7. The potential one mill tax would raise approximately $616 per pupil for each of the 11 school districts in the Char-Em ISD coverage area.

A recent survey conducted by Denno-Research of East Lansing sampled 300 likely voters in Emmet, Charlevoix and northern Antrim counties and found the idea for the millage was well-received. Without even having local superintendents and school boards weighing in, 65 percent of respondents already said they would be likely to vote in favor of a proposal that would raise taxes by one mill to support local districts.

Survey respondents favored local control to determine each individual district's priorities for the additional funds (which could be used to meet the different needs of each district in the ISD).

Since 2000, state funding has failed to keep up with inflation, forcing districts to make millions of dollars in cuts and find new efficiencies. For the past 10 years, local districts have increased class sizes, eliminated staff, and delayed or eliminated supplies, among other steps to balance their budgets.

A 2016 study of Michigan's education funding system found that an optimal spending level for Michigan schools is $8,677 per pupil, based on the spending levels of 54 school districts identified as "notably successful." Most local school districts within Char-Em ISD receive $7,511 per pupil - $1,156 short of the optimal spending level.

In Harbor Springs, an "out-of-formula" district, per pupil funding averages are much higher, hovering closer to $12,000. This is because unlike almost all other districts in the state, Harbor Springs Public School District is able to levy a "non-homestead property tax" for 90 percent of its annual revenue; a result of second home/commercial property values being so much higher than homestead properties.

Still, superintendent Mark Tompkins said the Char-Em millage indicates the stark reality many local schools are facing.

"This has been talked about in the Char-Em ISD for quite awhile now. There are districts all across the state-- including in our area-- that have reached a point where they just can't cut anymore (from their budgets)," Tompkins said. "I have great confidence the number of school boards needed have already or will soon pass a resolution to see this on the ballot. Our district would benefit from it, but frankly, that's not the important thing here. It won't even the playing field because everyone is getting the same funding levels from it, but it will help a lot of districts that really need it."

In order for the ISD to pursue the millage in November, local boards of education representing more than 50 percent of the student population in the ISD must pass resolutions to accept the proposal.

Enhancement millages are levied, collected, and distributed equally to every district on a per pupil basis. The ISD receives no funds from the proposal.

"The survey results indicate great public support in helping students," said ISD Superintendent Jeff Crouse. "The next step is for superintendents to continue talking with boards of education about the potential of placing a regional enhancement millage proposal on the November ballot now that the data indicates enthusiasm for supporting students."

When the Legislature in 1993 drafted a new funding formula for public schools, passed by voters as Proposal A in 1994, a majority of legislators feared the new funding plan would fall short of revenue needs and expectations in certain communities.

To compensate for the need for additional revenues, the proposal included a provision allowing Intermediate School Districts to levy up to three mills for 20 years or less to be distributed on a per pupil basis to every constituent school district within that ISD.

There are some concerns about the long-term viability of such plans, as Tompkins noted that some ISD's won't be fortunate enough to pass a millage, and that regional enhancement millages do favor areas with higher property values.

"For our ISD, one mill will bring in a lot of revenue, because our property values are high. For an area like Detroit, one mill would bring in next to nothing," he said.

To date, six other ISDs in the state have successfully passed regional enhancement millages.

FCB 2017

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