School officials make case for millage renewal

Nov. 8 election will determine key funding for Hazel Park Public Schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 1, 2016


HAZEL PARK — Two millages are set to expire next year for Hazel Park Public Schools, millages that allow the district to repair and update its buildings — say, if a boiler breaks down or the roof starts leaking. On Election Day Nov. 8, voters will be asked to approve one millage that will replace both.

There will be no increase in taxes if the millage is approved. The millage itself is a 2-mill, 10-year building and site sinking fund. That’s $2 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, starting July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2027. The millage would provide estimated revenues to the district of nearly $549,700 the first year.

State law says the money cannot be used for teacher, administrator or employee salaries; maintenance; or other operating expenses. It can only be used to address security, safety, building repairs, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and other needs related to buildings in the district.

The district is already planning to use the funds to upgrade playground surfaces to meet current code across the district and to address related drainage issues. Other projects include roof and masonry repairs at several buildings, boiler and hot water repairs at the high school, electrical upgrades, HVAC repairs, enhancements to improve security at main entrances, restroom renovations, interior door and hardware replacements for ADA and fire ratings at several schools, lighting repairs and carpeting replacement across the district.

The district completed a comprehensive facility assessment this spring and found need for more than $27 million in building improvements. Over the course of the 10-year millage, the district would raise about $5.5 million toward that cost.

“Our schools continue to be kept in acceptable condition for our students,” Dr. Amy Kruppe, superintendent of HPPS, said in an email. “This sinking fund addresses a small piece each year of the $27 million (in maintenance and repair work) that is needed in our schools.”

The district has been making progress on its deficit elimination plan, which called for a $1.6 million reduction of the district’s $8 million general fund deficit in 2015-16. A recent audit shows the district doing even better, bringing the debt down to just over $5.9 million. The target for the 2016-17 school year calls for a further $1.6 million deficit reduction, with planned deficit elimination by June 2020.

“We are continuing to progress in a positive manner,” Kruppe said. “We’re excited to share with the public that our audit was clean, other than one finding that we are in debt.”

During the summer, the district executed a financial recovery agreement with the Michigan Department of Treasury, which provides extra measures and reporting to treasury to ensure that the recovery process continues in Hazel Park. This includes monthly reporting requirements for ongoing monitoring and support by the state. In addition, the district is required to seek treasury approval before executing new contracts and contract extensions.

The district’s deficit dates back to 2006, well before Kruppe’s time as superintendent. She attributes it to a steep decline in student enrollment over the past 10 years. The district made budget cuts during that time but wasn’t able to eliminate the deficit.

In 2015-16, the district saved millions in cost reductions through the elimination of about 120 staff positions across all employee groups, including teachers, administrators, bus drivers, custodians, maintenance, secretaries, central office staff and paraprofessionals. Salaries were reduced for every employee group by an average of 9 percent.

In addition, the district outsourced food services, consolidated transportation administration with Ferndale Public Schools, saved money by changing worker compensation insurance carriers, and closed programs and services that were not covering their costs.

The district has also improved its enrollment rates, with an increase of 150 students for the current school year. This was a pleasant surprise, Kruppe said, since district officials had been projecting a decrease in students.

Rachel Noth, president of the Hazel Park Board of Education, noted in an email how the district has been hard at work on new science, math and language arts curriculum for grades K-5, with versions for grades 6-8 in the works as well. About 15 students at the high school are attending a Chrysler program to learn a trade. Two classrooms were opened for early childhood programs for 3-and 4-year-olds, since many were on a waiting list. Sports participation across the district is up 17 percent from last year, and of those students, 42 percent are Oakland Athletic Association Scholars, meaning they carry a 3.5 GPA or higher. The district is also launching Phase 1 of the Mi-Excel Turnaround, focused on improving how the schools are run.

Many good things are happening, she said. The millage renewal will continue to ensure the facilities are able to support this progress.

“We need to continue to build this fund for repairs needed for our buildings,” Noth said. “For instance, we have $250,000 in this account now. This might sound like a lot, but if we had to replace a boiler or roof in one building this would barely get us started.

“I would like to stress that our buildings are safe, and some of these repairs can wait a few years down the road,” she said. “But we still need to be proactive and prepare for the current and future repairs needed.”