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September 18, 2013

Southfield Public Schools seeks millage renewal

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

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Southfield Public Schools students prepare to march in a millage parade and rally Sept. 11.

SOUTHFIELD — The Southfield Public Schools Board of Education will be requesting a six-year renewal of the current 17.6345 operating mills on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The last millage was passed in 2008 and represents $50 million in revenue for the district.

Darrell Joyce, co-chair of the Citizens for the Southfield Schools Millage: Challenge Committee, is an active parent who said he’s passionate about the issue and making sure voters know what this ballot question means for Southfield.

“This is important because of the fact that Southfield Public Schools is a great school system. I’ve volunteered in the school system for 25 years and have had five kids graduate from Southfield High School and five go on to college,” he explained. “And because I’ve worked with the administration and teachers, I see how important it is to make that statement I’m making now: This city is only as good as its school system, and as a parent, I’ve seen the success.”

Challenge Committee Coordinator Jacqueline Robinson explained that the district is required by state law to levy a millage in order to receive state funding.

Robinson, who also works as the public relations manager for the district, in addition to her millage advocacy, noted that the revenue from the millage accounts for 50% of the district’s annual operating budget of $100 million.

She said the district has kept its promise to voters to “live within its means.” Despite costs rising in the school system, the district has still made budget cuts and reduced its operating expenses by nearly $80 million over the last six years.

“Since 2008, the school district has reduced expenditures from $126.4 million to $88.9 million,” she said, noting outsourced services, reducing non-academic programming like library hours and cutting non-instructional staff in order to further reduce costs yet continue to offer quality education for its 7,400 students.

She also emphasized that the district has never levied the entire amount approved by voters; rather, it currently levies 16.9868 of the voter-approved 17.6345 mills on homestead properties.

Joyce said that demonstrates the school system’s commitment to Southfield families.

“We share this with a lot of parents; it’s unheard of. We made the promise to live within our means and kept that promise without our children coming up short,” he said. “It’s something we make sure every voter knows so they can see the integrity of the school board and the district as a whole.”

To spread the word as election season approaches, the Challenge Committee hosted a parade and rally Sept. 11.

The parade kicked off at Birney K-8 at 5 p.m., and the 200-plus attendees made their way down Evergreen to Southfield-Lathrup High School, where the event culminated in a rally.

The parade, which is a millage request tradition, was organized by the committee, with the help of union officials, teachers, parents and supporters.

“We got our children involved, the marching band, the administration and teachers involved,” Joyce added. “We just wanted to make it known to anyone coming to the area that day that the millage was coming up, and if you live in Southfield, vote yes.” 

The district is accredited through NCA/AdvancED, offers dual enrollment for all students with costs covered by the district and offers Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs from the sixth grade, as well as International Baccalaureate programs for K-12.

For more information about Southfield Public Schools, visit www.southfield.k12.mi.us.


 

Navigating the millage renewal request
According to district officials, finances have been a continuing concern because state school aid has not kept pace with inflation for the past 20 years. Additionally, over the past six years, commercial and residential property values have fallen, creating less revenue for school operations.

SPS millage history
Southfield and Lathrup Village voters first approved 21.8840 operating mills in 1994 and again in 1998; they approved 19.6345 mills in 2004 and 17.6345 in 2008.

Currently, the district levies the state-required 18 mills on business properties and 16.9868 of the voter-approved 17.6345 mills on homestead properties. The district also levies 3.5 mills on all property for its debt millage, which pays back loans for previous bond projects. This money cannot be used for general fund expenditures.

Understanding the ballot language
Though the ballot question asks to “increase” the millage, the request is to renew the millage. Since all of the operating millage has expired, the mills are technically at zero until they are renewed, which is why law requires the ballot language to use the term “increase” from zero.

Election impact
If the millage renewal is approved, a homeowner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay approximately $882 for 17.6345 mills levied.

If the millage renewal were not approved, the district would lose 50 percent of its funding, according to Robinson, with “no viable alternative to replace the funding.”