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West Bloomfield

September 21, 2012

Voters to decide WBSD sinking fund proposal

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Voters in the West Bloomfield School District’s boundaries will have a chance to sink their teeth into a proposed building and site sinking fund millage Nov. 6.

The district is asking voters for a 10-year, 1.5-mill tax, which would be levied from 2013 to 2023 and reportedly would raise an estimated $2.45 million during its first year.

A 1.5-mill tax would cost $150 per year for the owner of a home that has a $200,000 market value.

Superintendent Gerald Hill said he hasn’t heard very much from residents yet about the proposal because the idea is new to the district.

“So we’re needing to do an informational effort to let the citizens and voters know what it is, what the purposes are and how it can help secure our financial future,” he said.

Under Michigan’s Proposal A, Lansing holds the purse strings to a majority of school funding and doles out money through per-pupil foundation grants. However, local districts are allowed to raise money from local taxpayers through sinking funds devoted to certain building expenses, school officials said.

According to the West Bloomfield School District, 143 of the state’s school districts do this, levying an average of 1.3951 mills in 2011. Nine districts raise an average of 1.4 mills in Oakland County, the district said.

School officials said millage revenue would be set aside for certain building repairs, remodeling, construction and infrastructure upgrades. Such funds may not be used for employee salaries, routine maintenance or operating expenses. To guarantee this, sinking fund purchases are subject to regular audits, officials said.

Hill said a recent school enrollment and facilities report helped analyze and identify building issues that need to be addressed over the next five years. One example is the need to replace precast exterior siding on West Bloomfield High School, he said.

Hill said a sinking fund would give the district more breathing room to focus on academics. “Having the option of a sinking fund, it will enable the school district to utilize education dollars in the classroom versus building repairs,” he said.

In 2009, voters approved a $24 million bond issue almost 2-1. The bond proposal was apportioned to give the district $10.2 million for facilities, $6.9 million for energy efficiency, $5 million for technology, and $1.9 million for buses and safety measures.

Deputy Superintendent for Business and Operations Tom Goulding said all $24 million of those bonds have already been sold, and the district has used the money on upgrades such as improvements to the high school auditorium and classrooms in multiple schools, along with energy controls.

“We’ve accomplished a lot with bond money,” he said. “Now if you’ve got a sinking fund passed, you’ve got a pot of money you can use to repair the facilities.”

Goulding said the district prefers a sinking fund instead of a bond because sinking funds don’t require the district to deal with paying interest. But he noted that a sinking fund can’t be used to pay for just any expense — it could cover roof repairs and broken air conditioners, but not more common, everyday maintenance tasks, he added.

To learn more about the millage proposal, visit www.wbsd.org or call (248) 865-6486.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.