Chippewa Valley Schools bond fails

Superintendent: ‘Very disappointing’

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published May 4, 2017

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — A $89.9 million bond proposal issued by Chippewa Valley Schools failed May 2.

Nearly 14,000 district voters made their voices heard, with 58.6 percent of them voting against the proposal.

“My initial thought, to me, is it’s just very disappointing,” said Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts. “We looked at the bond package and kept it to basics: upkeep and technology.

“To me the disappointing part is the loss of technology for our students. We had really worked on our curriculum and were going to introduce new courses.”

He said it’s undetermined how the district will progress financially. Roberts and his staff want to analyze data from this election in accordance with past elections.

Approximately 52 percent of the proposed funds would have been used for student safety and facility upgrades, including security camera updates, door locks, roofs, parking lots, flooring and mechanical equipment.

Voters were told prior to the election that if the proposal passed, a home with a market value of $200,000 would pay less than $1 per week — or $50 per year, in addition to current taxes — for a 25-year period. Since property taxes have inflation, as property values go up, so would the taxes.

Property taxes would have increased by 0.5 mills, from 8.64 mills to 9.16 mills. In March, polling data revealed that possible voters supported the proposal.

Roberts said explaining school funding and the inequities of school funding is one of the district’s most difficult jobs. Chippewa Valley Schools is Michigan’s largest and lowest-funded district, he said, and it impacts the operating budget on an annual basis.

Moving forward, he said the district’s general fund will be integral in terms of curriculum. There’s no money left to redo parking, add safety features or fix items like carpeting.

Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, R-Macomb Township, launched a campaign in April aimed at defeating the proposal. Drolet, who is also chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, identified two main reasons for the proposal’s failure.

First, he mentioned the district’s fiscal irresponsibility, noting that Chippewa Valley Schools is only behind Detroit Public Schools — ranking 521st of 522 Michigan districts — when it comes to possessing the largest debt. He said they borrow for everything, including short-term items.

Second, he said the district’s school-of-choice model is adequate, though students’ families outside of Clinton and Macomb townships don’t have property in the district and, hence, are not obligated to pay for a share of the debt.

“People resent the extent of the debt the district is going into, and they don’t think it’s fair. … I suggest they focus on budgeting and reorganizing themselves fiscally, paying down debt instead of adding debt,” Drolet said. “520 other districts find ways to provide these services to their students, without this massive debt Chippewa does. I would look at what those other 520 districts do, and learn from it.”

Above all, Drolet added, school districts and public entities need to recognize that they’re fiscally responsible because financial situations have changed the past decade.

As an example, he said first paying off items like computers is akin to first paying off the front door on a 30-year home loan, or car tires during a five-year payment plan.

“Since the Great Recession, personal incomes are still 8 percent lower than when it hit,” he said. “So, there’s been recovery, but not where people were eight years ago. … Citizens have said it’s time for them to look how (districts are) budgeting.”

Roberts said the district was aware of how people voted last November, though he stated that school districts often defy the odds when it comes to elections. He said people look at schools as extensions of what’s good about a community.

He said debt was an issue — one that the district conveyed was a result of 20 years of constructing buildings. Now, a large district with minimal funding and large growth in the student body needs to discover a new financial route.

“We know we live in uncertain times,” Roberts said. “We know you couldn’t say, ‘We passed an election and it will happen again.’”

Chippewa Valley had the second-highest voter turnout in Macomb County at 18.8 percent, behind Anchor Bay Schools at 19.1 percent. Six county districts had proposals May 2.