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March 27, 2013

School millage renewals to appear on May 7 ballot

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

BERKLEY — On May 7, the Berkley School District is asking for the community’s support in renewing a pair of millage proposals that will bring in nearly $4 million per year for the district over the next decade.

Superintendent Dennis McDavid appeared before the Berkley City Council March 18 to briefly discuss the two millage renewals. After listing a series of Berkley Schools’ recent accomplishments, he urged residents to help the district gain the funding necessary to add to that list.

“By nearly any measure, we’re a great school district and we only continue to get better,” he said. “But in order to remain great, we’re going to need some help from the community. … Both of these proposals are just renewals, so they are not tax increases. … It’s going to be critical for us as a school district, for our continued success and to serve our students in the best way possible, to have both of these millages pass on May 7.”

The first proposal is seeking a renewal of 18 mills for the district’s general operating fund. This millage is not a levy on primary household residences, but rather a non-homestead millage for commercial and industrial businesses, as well as second homes. Revenue from the general operating fund is used to pay for the district’s everyday expenses, such as employee salaries, textbooks, computers and other classroom supplies.

The revenue generated by this millage is considered by the state of Michigan when calculating the district’s annual foundation allowance, which amounted to $7,727 per pupil in 2012. According to McDavid, the non-homestead millage produced about $3.1 million for Berkley Schools last year, or about 6 percent of its total budget. Without that revenue, the district would have faced a loss of about $600 per student.

“Losing that funding would create a major dent in our general fund budget and would require us to consider making cuts to our school programs and/or reducing staff,” said Jessica Stilger, communications supervisor for the Berkley School District. “It represents a significant portion of our overall budget.”

If the renewal is approved, the non-homestead millage would be extended for a period of 10 years, and the 18 mills would be levied entirely on summer tax bills. The millage was previously supported by district voters in 2002 but expired with the levy for the 2012-13 school year.

The second proposal, meanwhile, is seeking a renewal of 0.7367 mills levied on all properties within the district. The revenue would go toward the district’s sinking fund, which pays for capital improvements at all Berkley school properties. It generated about $635,000 for the district in 2012.

Like the general operating fund millage, if approved, the sinking fund millage would cover a 10-year period. The original millage was approved by district voters in 2004 and is set to expire in 2014. If approved May 7, the millage renewal would begin during the 2014-15 school year.

Since its inception, the sinking fund has financed school infrastructure projects, such as Hurley Field track resurfacing and turf replacement, Berkley High School auditorium seating improvements, boiler repairs, new lockers, roofing and parking lot replacements, technology upgrades, lighting and energy enhancements, and more. According to Stilger, in the near future, the district plans to use the sinking fund for wireless Internet capability at all schools, various paving and roofing work, heating and cooling upgrades, and significant improvements to the BHS pool.

“The sinking fund allows us to maintain our school buildings and infrastructure without having to use any general fund revenue,” Stilger explained. “Without that money, we would either have to dip into our general fund to pay for those projects, or they just would not get done at all.”

Paul Ellison, president of the Berkley Board of Education, is hopeful that voters will approve both millage renewals May 7, as he is unsure of how the district can make further reductions without hurting education.

“We’ve already absorbed just about all that we can absorb in our budget — we’ve really cut ourselves to the bone,” he said. “If these millages don’t pass, we would have to make some serious cuts that would have a negative impact on our students. We would be facing the same types of deficits that we had two or three years ago all over again. The bottom line is that we want to expand our programs, not cut them even more.”

The last day that new voters can register to vote in this election is Monday, April 8, while the last day that absentee ballots can be mailed or picked up from the City Clerk’s office is Saturday, May 4. Stilger noted that the timing of these two millage renewal requests was part of a deliberate strategy for the district.

“We didn’t want to put them on the November 2012 ballot because we didn’t want them to get lost in the middle of so many important national and state elections,” she said. “We decided that it would be much better to consolidate them both in May. The idea to have everything on one ballot was to make more efficient use of voter time, election resources and taxpayer dollars. If we can hold one election instead of two, then we will always choose one.”

For more information, call the district offices at (248) 837-8095 or visit www.berkleyschools.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.