WLCSD seeks voter approval for operating millage renewal

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 8, 2014

WALLED LAKE — Two Walled Lake Consolidated School District operating millages will expire in December 2015, promoting the Board of Education to request voter approval to renew the operating millages in a single ballot question Nov. 4. 

Both renewals — which do not contain a tax increase over the expiring millages — would be for a 10-year period spanning Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2015. The operating millages, if approved and levied, would provide the school district with estimated revenues of $30 million during the 2016 calendar year, to be used for general operating purposes. Because there is no November 2015 general election, the millage renewals are being proposed this November.

The operating millages were first levied in 1995, and voters renewed them for 10 years in 2005. One is on nonhomestead, or business properties, for 18 mills, and the other is a so-called “hold-harmless” 3.90 mill-levy on residential properties.

Each school district is allocated a certain amount of funding per pupil from combined state and local funds, also known as a foundation allowance, to support school operations. Districts are considered “hold harmless” districts when the foundation allowance is above the state maximum, and they are permitted to levy additional local hold harmless millages.

Superintendent Kenneth Gutman said that this is a critical election for the district, and that voters need to realize this is a renewal, not a tax increase. If the renewals do not pass, the district would lose 20 percent, or $30 million, of the district’s $154 million budget.

“We’d have a really hard time figuring out how we could operate without that money. I don’t know how we would open the doors. … The reality is, we cut over $50 million from our budget over the past 10 years. I don’t know how you cut $30 million in one year,” Gutman said.

In 2005, the district was authorized to levy a hold-harmless millage of 3.9 mills on residential properties; however, the district has not levied the maximum. For the 2014-15 school year, the district levied only 2.2 mills, according to a fact sheet.

For a home valued at $200,000 the assessment would remain approximately $227 annually. The levy for businesses would also remain the same.

Susan Ebeling, chair of the Citizens Committee for Walled Lake Schools and a parent in the district, said that from a parent’s perspective, the renewal is absolutely crucial to the students’ quality of life.

“It would be absolutely devastating,” if the ballot issue failed, she said.

“I don’t think there is any other way to say it. Walled Lake has made so many difficult choices over the last 12 years, and (losing) $30 million is out of the realm of possibility in my mind,” Ebeling said.

The Citizens Committee is independent from the school district; it raises its own funds and supports activities in the schools. Members of the committee educate people on issues like the millage renewal and urge people to vote yes, she said.

“The school district is not allowed to say, ‘Vote yes.’ The parents can go out and advocate and say, ‘Get out and vote,’” she said.

A school operating millage is a local property tax levied by the school district primarily on businesses and homeowners. Proceeds from the operating millages are used to support general operations, including classroom instruction, employee salaries, class size and textbooks.

An explanation about the millage renewal and a fact sheet are available for review at www.wlcsd.org.