Educators hopeful millage initiative will get on ballot

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published October 18, 2019


MACOMB COUNTY — A group of Macomb County educators have joined together to place an educational millage on the ballot next March.

The goal is to bring a 1.9-mil, 10-year countywide millage proposal before the voters in an effort to generate funding for the county’s 21 school districts.

But before the millage initiative gets on the ballot, the Macomb Intermediate School District, or MISD, must approve the ballot proposal.

“The MISD has to vote,” said Liza Parkinson, president of the Utica Education Association. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

“We have been discussing the possibility of a millage with members of the 21 Macomb County local boards of education, superintendents and the leadership of the teachers unions throughout the county,” MISD Deputy Superintendent Don Bollinger said. “By law, if requested by the local school boards, the MISD Board of Education has until mid-December to submit ballot language for a March 2020 election.”

“They have to finalize the final resolution,” said John Duffy, president of the Michigan Education Association Local 1, or MEA. The MEA represents 14 school districts in the county in teaching, transportation, maintenance, paraprofessionals and office staff.

In the meantime, several school districts in the county, including Mount Clemens Community Schools, Utica Community Schools, and Chippewa Valley Schools have given their endorsement. Because of the population of those school districts, the millage effort now has the county student majority needed to put it in front of voters in March.

“Last March, the Utica Community Schools Board (of Education) passed a resolution to place a countywide millage on the ballot,” Parkinson said. After that, a study committee was put together and met over the summer. “We built some coalitions and we worked very hard to provide information to the boards of education so they can make a decision about whether or not they want to support a resolution.”

Parkinson said the goal is to place the millage on the March 10, 2020 ballot, which is the same day of the presidential primary election. If it passes, the educational millage would generate $418 per student per year over the next 10 years.

During the 2011-12 school year, $470 in per-pupil funding was cut from the state budget. Some funding was replaced in subsequent years, as districts received an additional $30 for the 2013-14 school year and an additional $50 in 2014-15. The following year, public school districts received $70 more in per-pupil funding. An additional $60 was approved by state lawmakers in 2016-17.

“We can’t count on the state of Michigan to take care of our kids,” Parkinson said. “We decided we have to take the matter into our own hands.”

According to Parkinson, if the 1.9-mill, 10-year countywide millage proposal is approved, it would cost taxpayers in the county anywhere from $40 to $200 per year, depending on the taxable value of their home.

“Every $1,000 of the (taxable) home value will be taxed one dollar and 90 cents,” Parkinson said.

If the proposal passes, the revenue raised by the millage would be collected by the MISD and distributed over 10 years to each individual school district based on the number of children in their respective districts. If the ballot proposal passes, each school district would be able to use the funding to their discretion. That could include books, paper, teaching materials, science kits, computer software, art supplies and physical education supplies.

“They will get to access the needs of their children and how to best spend the money for the kids in their community,” Parkinson said.

“It allows us to move forward with funding that the state has deprived us from over the last 10 years,” said Duffy, who also teaches part time at Wolfe Middle School in Center Line. “The money stays in Macomb County. It’s local control the state can’t touch. We’ve been talking about this over three years. I’ve seen other counties do this.”

“I am very hopeful it will be on the ballot. I also believe it will prevail,” Parkinson said. “We all love our kids and want the best for them. We always do right by our children when we have the opportunity to.”

“(People) need to know there’s a future in education,” Duffy said. “(The millage) is an investment for the future, and I think it’s worth it.”

Duffy and Parkinson said the millage would not be used for teacher salaries. School districts would start receiving funding in the 2020-21 school year.

Duffy also said that because of budget cuts, many teachers spend anywhere from $300 to $500 of their own money for classroom supplies. He’s known of educators who have even budgeted $1,000 out of their own pockets to pay for materials.