Chippewa voters elect new board members, renew millage

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published November 5, 2014


CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Voters in Chippewa Valley Schools came out in big numbers on Nov. 4 to support two new faces on the Board of Education and allow the district to continue levying its 18-mill non-homestead millage for the next decade.


School board members look toward future

With three major items on the ballot, this year’s election was an important one for Chippewa Valley Schools. The most tightly contested of these items was the race for two six-year terms on the Board of Education, in which incumbent Vice President Andrew Patzert and newcomer Laura Cardamone nabbed the open seats.

Cardamone, a 49-year-old clinical social work therapist from Clinton Township, received the greatest number of votes with 12,578, or 32.6 percent of the total votes submitted. Patzert, 71, of Clinton Township — a retired Chippewa Valley teacher, counselor and coach who has served on the school board for the past 12 years — narrowly edged out challenger Grace Caporuscio with 9,665 votes, or 25.1 percent. Caporuscio finished with 9,493 votes, or 24.6 percent, while a fourth candidate, Angelo Massimo Selva, received 6,842 votes, or 17.7 percent.

Cardamone attributed her strong showing in the election to a handful of factors: her endorsements from United Auto Workers and the Chippewa Valley Education Association — the teachers’ union in the district — as well as lots of hard work distributing literature to residents door to door. While this will be her first elected office, Cardamone is a veteran of Macomb County politics, having worked on campaigns for local mainstays like Carl Marlinga, Eric Smith and Bill Sowerby.

“I know how important it is to be involved in the school district and to make a positive impact on your community,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for the members of this board, and I look forward to working with all of them. I think this will be a very smooth transition.”

As a two-term incumbent who recently began his 50th school year in Chippewa Valley, Patzert indicated that he was “very surprised” by how close the race was on Nov. 4. He noted that Selva lives “right around the corner” from him, and he believes that may have pulled some votes away from him.

“I started in Chippewa Valley Schools when I was 22 years old, and I still really love this district — it’s just in my blood,” Patzert said. “Being a school board member is not about making a financial gain or a political gain. It’s a commitment to serving your community and providing the best possible education for our children.”

The election also included an open seat on the Board of Education for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2016. In that race, newcomer Jill DeMuynck Zech, a 36-year-old special education advocate from Macomb Township, defeated former board member Euel Kinsey in a landslide. Zech received 14,455 votes, or 71.3 percent of the total, while Kinsey received just 5,824 votes, or 28.7 percent.

For Zech — who, like Cardamone and Patzert, was endorsed by the Chippewa Valley Education Association — her huge margin of victory was the result of lots of hard work campaigning throughout the district with a large group of supporters by her side.

“I grew up in this area, and I graduated from Chippewa Valley High School, so I still know a lot of people around here,” Zech explained. “I had a lot of family and friends to help me campaign. Now I’m just excited to join the rest of the board. I think we will work well together and make a lot of good decisions on behalf of the school district.”

Looking ahead, all three winners agreed that although Chippewa Valley currently has its budget under control and a healthy fund balance, finance will continue to be the district’s biggest issue.

“This governor has not been very kind to public education,” Patzert said, “and we’re going to have to deal with that for another four years. All school districts really have to do more with less now. That’s always a cause for concern.”

Cardamone also hopes to focus on creating smaller class sizes and utilizing modern technology to an even greater degree, such as giving students iPads to replace multiple heavy textbooks.

“Our little ones are carrying 50 pounds of books home from school every day — we’re breaking their backs,” she said. “The whole idea is to prepare our children for the real world, and with technology, we can help them make the transition into college and whatever career path they choose.”

Zech, the mother of a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old with special needs, contended that Chippewa Valley should move further toward providing individualized education.

“With three kids, it’s obvious to me that children at different levels, ages and even genders learn in very different ways,” she said. “I think it’s very important for our district, and this board, to keep that in mind with any future decisions that it makes.”

Patzert thanked the two departing board members — Secretary Tammy Reynolds and Trustee Ken DeBeaussaert — for their years of dedication and commitment to the district, and welcomed Cardamone and Zech to the fold. Zech is scheduled to join the board at its next meeting on Nov. 17, while Cardamone will take her seat at the board’s first meeting in January.

“Laura and Jill are very hard workers who have a genuine desire to serve this district,” Patzert said. “I think they will both be great additions to our board.”


Millage support secures district finances

In addition to electing new school board members on Nov. 4, Chippewa Valley voters overwhelmingly approved the renewal of a millage for businesses and non-primary homes. The proposal, which will renew the district’s existing 18-mill levy for an additional 10 years, received 21,369 “yes” votes, or 68.3 percent of the total. There were also 9,939 “no” votes cast, or 31.7 percent.

These 18 mills are currently levied by every public school district in Michigan on commercial and industrial properties, as well as on second homes and rental homes. In Chippewa Valley Schools, the non-homestead millage represents about $11.5 million per year in revenue, or roughly 8 percent of the district’s annual budget. It was last renewed by district voters in 2006, but the existing millage had been set to expire on Dec. 31.

Superintendent Ron Roberts stated that while district officials were confident that the millage would pass, there was some concern about having to compete with so many other important items on the ballot. He pointed out that previous school elections in Chippewa Valley were held in May, and this marked the first time that they have been conducted in November.

“It’s a much broader audience,” Roberts said, “so what worries you is just trying to get the information out there to the community. There’s a lot of noise in a November election, which makes it more challenging to make sure your message is heard. So we were very happy with that 68 percent majority because it meant that we were able to communicate to voters what this millage is all about.”

For Patzert, it was important that district officials not rest on their laurels just because previous non-homestead millages have passed with large majorities.

“You always need to go into a millage campaign with the attitude that you have to educate the community and work hard,” he said. “You never want to go into these things feeling overconfident. If you do that, you’re going to lose.”

Under the 18-mill non-homestead millage, a qualifying property with a market value of $200,000 will pay a little more than $1,800 per year in taxes.

The district’s proposal actually asked for 18.277 mills to be levied, as the additional 0.277 mills were included to offset any small rollbacks that may occur under Michigan’s Headlee Amendment. Headlee requires local school districts and units of government to reduce their millage rates when property values increase faster than the rate of inflation.

Roberts admitted that if the millage had failed, it would have been a “significant” blow for Chippewa Valley Schools. District officials would have had to call for a special election in February to bring the proposal back, and in the meantime, pulled from their fund balance to cover the financial loss.

“Without these funds, I don’t even know where we would begin adjusting what we do,” Roberts said. “We don’t have a lot of discretionary income to fall back on. That’s why we’re so grateful to the voters for coming out and allowing us to keep what we have.”

Patzert said that seeing the millage receive such enormous support from the community was “exhilarating.” Roberts, meanwhile, was able to actually witness this support firsthand. From 5-8 p.m. on Election Day, he worked outside of Dakota High School, handing out millage literature to voters as they made their way to the polls.

“The level of support that I heard from the people that I spoke with was just overwhelming,” he said. “I’ve been here for 38 years now, and that’s why I’m still here. It’s amazing how much people around here really care about this district and claim it as their own.”