Millage renewal ‘crucial’

State proposal to cut per-pupil funding would be ‘catastrophic’

Two issues relating to school funding are coming up. One is the renewal of the 18 mills non-homestead property millage renewal on the November 3 general election ballot. The second is a state proposal, currently voted down by legislators, to cut $218 per student funding to school districts across the state.

For Rockford, failure to approve the millage renewal would cost the district seven percent of their operating budget—five million dollars per year. If the state funding per pupil were cut, that loss would represent two million annually from the district’s budget.

Rockford Superintendent Dr. Michael Shibler commented on both issues this week. School districts are required by the state to turn in their completed budgets each June. The state does not have to pass a budget until September. Unlike the federal government, Michigan is required to operate with a balanced budget.

“Right up until the middle of August we were told there would be a freeze in school funding,” Shibler said. He said in mid-August the Senate passed a bill to cut per-student funding by $110 per child. Shibler said the house took no action on the bill.

“Now it’s September, teachers are in the classrooms, staff has been hired. We have no solid foundation [on what to expect in funding],” Shibler said.

“Now, literally last week the state Senate and House passed a joint committee which recommended a $218 per-student cut.” Shibler said it would have been “nearly impossible” to assimilate such a cut in the district.

He credits grass roots efforts, such as the organization he has chaired here in Kent County since 2001, with letting legislatures know this proposed cut is unacceptable.

“Now they have passed a resolution extending the current budget and that’s where we are now,” he stated. “That kind of cut would be catastrophic, not only for us but across the state.”

For the general election on November 3, Shibler said it is too bad there is nothing but the millage renewal on the ballot. “We need people to get out and vote.” The millage is a renewal of the non-homestead property tax passed in 1994. It does not affect any residential taxes, only businesses and secondary homes, such as cottages. It is not a tax increase.

“We’ve had two elections already on this,” Shibler explained. He said many people have asked why the district is putting the issue before voters now, instead of waiting for the May school elections.

“This is a safety net,” Shibler stated. He pointed out that last May the same type of renewal failed in Saugatuk. Voters passed the renewal later, but the action was costly. “They lost a couple of million in revenue. We can’t afford to have that happen.”

“If it were to fail, we could go back and ask again in May with no penalty,” Shibler said. He pointed out that there was some controversy involved in the Saugatuk election involving property, but he refuses to take any chances with school money.

“I know there are people out there today that are angry and afraid. This could be used as a protest vote.” He said he talked to school officials in Saugatuk who told him they hadn’t campaigned about the necessity of passing the renewal, because they were so confident it would go through.

“You know me,” Shibler explained. “I always run a campaign. I’ve given over 30 presentations in the community. I don’t like to take any chances.”

Shibler said failing to pass the millage would have a major impact on the quality of the educational program offered to this community. Absentee ballots are available at townships or the City on or before Wednesday, October 14. Approval of the renewal would secure funding for the district from 2010 through 2014. Shibler said the district votes on the issue every five years. This will be the third renewal.

Despite the lack of other issues on the ballot, Shibler hopes residents will take the time to vote and pass the renewal. “Unfortunately, there isn’t anything else on the ballot.It is an annual election for national, state and county. You’d think there would be something else, but there isn’t one thing but this. We have to make sure people get out and vote. A lot of people have told me this is a no-brainer, but I’m not taking any risks.”

To see questions and answers about the renewal visit rockfordschools.org.

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