Support swelling for school district sinking fund proposal

District seeking 10-year, 1-mill approval Nov. 6

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published September 26, 2012

ROYAL OAK — If early indicators suggest anything, the Nov. 6 sinking fund proposal to benefit infrastructure improvements for Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools is in good shape.

With a newly formed Friends of Royal Oak Schools resident group just starting to take shape and spread awareness of it, the 10-year, 1-mill increase has already won over many residents.

“I think it’s necessary. I think it’s well thought out. They planned it for several years to hit when it does,” said Jay Dunstan, a 54-year-old, lifelong Royal Oak resident. “The bond is for some very necessary improvements. The school board has had this on their radar for a while and they wanted to wait until the timing was right for everyone. I haven’t heard anything negative.”

Due to the debt millage decreasing by 0.61 mills, residents would only feel the impact of a 0.39-mill increase upon the proposed millage being enacted in 2013-14, putting the total school tax amount at 8.12 mills for the first two years.

The debt millage would decline each year from 2015-16 until it disappears in 2021-22 during the ninth year of the proposed 10-year sinking fund with the total millage at 4.02 mills. More immediately, in 2017-18, the overall millage amount would be 7.64 mills, which is 0.09 lower than the current 2012-2013 total millage of 7.73 mills.

“I think it’s important because, as a parent of two Royal Oak students — a senior and an eighth-grader — we’ve gone through the system and the old Northwood School,” said Allison Sykes, treasurer for Friends of Royal Oak Schools. “We’ve seen the crumbling and the leaks and the too much heat and not enough heat. The money would strictly be for the repairs of the building. This money would help keep the schools reinforced. It’s hard to learn when you’re in your winter jacket because the (heating ventilation air conditioning) is on the blink.”

The impact on a Royal Oak taxpayer with the average house value of $137,420 would be $26.80 per year, according to Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin. For a $100,000 house, the cost would be $19.50 per year, or $39 per year for a $200,000 house.

“The top need right now is really roofing and parking lot updates,” Lewis-Lakin said. “One of our primary goals is to improve our buildings, but reduce our operating costs. As I’ve been out talking to people, I’ve gotten a positive response. People are seeing it as reasonable. They understand it’s the right thing to do.

“We’re trying to create an ongoing solution to an ongoing need. Even though it’s just $30, in this economy we understand that’s a significant number. We wouldn’t be asking for this unless we felt it was important.”

The district has spent the past decade cutting costs while improving academically. In the past 10 years, central office administration has been cut by 50 percent and school administration cut by 40 percent, saving the district $9.5 million annually.

“There’s been a lot of consolidation and trimming to be the functioning district we are now, but it’s not enough. We need to fix the buildings,” Sykes said. “It’s like being a responsible homeowner and cutting the grass. You’ve got to fix the buildings.”

The academic performance hasn’t suffered during the budget crunch. Last spring’s Michigan Merit Exam scores show Royal Oak High School seniors performed better at the end of their junior year than peers in the neighboring Clawson and Berkley districts in nearly all 10 comparisons, with Berkley High earning the edge in science. Royal Oak also performed above Oakland County averages in reading, writing and social studies.

Compared to the state averages, Royal Oak was better in all five subjects, boasting a 37 percent proficiency in math, 66 percent in reading, 28 percent in science, 48 percent in social studies and 62 percent in writing. Based on the combined percentage of advanced and partially proficient students, the state averages were 29 percent in math, 56 percent in reading, 26 percent in science, 41 percent in social studies and 49 percent in writing.

“They are good schools. We have great teachers and great students; it’s just unfortunate with the infrastructure it is sometimes hard to learn,” Sykes said. “Even people who don’t go to Royal Oak schools are all in favor of it, as well, because, if you keep the schools functioning well, it all works and keeps the property values up. Who wants to move into a school that’s falling down?”

One hurdle the district will have to face Nov. 6 is both the other ballot items and consequent placement of its sinking fund proposal toward the end of the ballot. Among those ballot items is a five-year, 3.975-mill public safety proposal from the city.

“You need your police and firemen, as well, to save the city and keep it safe,” Sykes said. “It is a concern. We hope people won’t choose the police over the schools. We’re also on the very last page of the ballot.”

Dunstan, Sykes, Lewis-Lakin and Mayor Jim Ellison all said they will be supporting both the city and school millages, due to the operational importance of each and the fact that the existing total millages are already less than in most neighboring communities.

“The way I look at it is the community as a whole needs both of these millages,” Ellison said. “The school millage is very small and shouldn’t be an issue. I think it’s reasonable and they’re paying the other one off.”

To learn more about the sinking fund proposal, visit or attend an open forum with Lewis-Lakin from 7-8 p.m. Oct. 3 at the district’s Administration Offices, 1123 Lexington Blvd., across from ROHS.

The Friends of Royal Oak Schools group is planning a Sept. 30 fundraiser 4-7 p.m. at Sangria Tapas Café, 401 S. Lafayette. Cost to attend is a minimum $25 donation. Those not attending and wishing to donate can mail donations to Friends of Royal Oak Schools, 2214 Ferncliff Ave., Royal Oak, MI 48073.