Site sinking fund millage passes for Hazel Park Public Schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 11, 2016

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HAZEL PARK/FERNDALE — Voters in the Hazel Park school district, which includes parts of Ferndale, supported a millage during the general election Nov. 8 for critical repairs and updates around the district. The millage replaces two existing millages, so there will be no increase in taxes.

The millage passed by 57.54 percent (4,366 votes) to 42.46 percent (3,222 votes).

The millage is a 2-mill, 10-year building and site sinking fund, which is meant to maintain and improve infrastructure — say, if a boiler breaks down or a roof starts leaking. 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 repairs, safety, security, 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.

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 further $1.6 million deficit reduction, with planned deficit elimination by June 2020.

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 current Superintendent Dr. Amy Kruppe. 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.

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

The district has since improved its enrollment rates, up 150 students in the current school year.

“I’m very excited the millage went through,” said Rachel Noth, president of the Hazel Park Board of Education. “This will help the district’s financial growth and provide stability. We thank the voters for supporting it. We’re going to use this funding right away for some of our buildings, playgrounds and security, addressing some of the critical repairs that were identified and need to be made this year. This money will allow us to put our plan into action.”

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