Voters approve operating millage renewal for Madison Schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 5, 2021

 The operating millage renewal that voters recently approved for the Madison District Public Schools includes a slight increase but only affects non-homestead properties such as businesses, helping to maintain school staffing, supplies and infrastructure.

The operating millage renewal that voters recently approved for the Madison District Public Schools includes a slight increase but only affects non-homestead properties such as businesses, helping to maintain school staffing, supplies and infrastructure.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Madison District Public Schools voters approved a measure Aug. 3 that renews the district’s operating millage while increasing it by a half-mill — a tax that will only affect businesses and other non-homestead properties.

Fewer than 1,000 people voted on the issue, with 543 votes cast in favor and 389 against it. The measure passed with 58% of the vote.

Officials say that the operating millage is essential, paying for employee salaries and benefits, purchase services, supplies and materials, and more. Salaries and benefits alone account for 68% of the costs, with the teachers being the largest group.

Homeowners and renters will not see any increase in taxes. The extra half mill restores the district’s tax levy to the maximum 18 mills allowable, and offsets revenue lost due to the state’s Headlee Amendment rollback.

School districts typically seek such a renewal once every five years, but in an attempt to simplify things for taxpayers, the Madison school district decided to go for a full 10 years.

“Obviously, we’re happy the business tax passed — that was important,” said Cindy Holder, president of the school district’s Board of Education. “The money it generates brings us back up to the level the state says we can levy, which is important to the classroom in terms of paying for teachers and staff, materials and equipment, and other operational needs. We’re very thankful for the support of the public. It was very important that this pass.”

The renewal came at a time when the district’s current board and superintendent is steering the schools back to good financial health, resulting in the district’s removal from a state watch list after the previous administration nearly exhausted a multimillion-dollar surplus.

According to an audit conducted by Plante Moran in 2019, the district had a surplus of nearly $3.3 million in 2012 but was overspending up through the 2019 fiscal year. When a new board and superintendent took power in early 2019, they found the district teetering on the brink of collapse with a deficit of $1.5 million projected for the following year.

Angel Abdulahad, who became superintendent that year, implemented a sweeping series of corrective measures to stave off a deficit that included cutting $1.5 million from the 2019-20 school year budget. Since then, the district has been attempting to bolster its fund balance.

This has led to the district being removed from a state watch list that requires districts to have 5% or more of their expenditures in savings. Currently, the district has exceeded that goal, with a fund balance around 10% and growing.

Earlier this year, the district celebrated more good news, selling its 2021 refunding bonds for roughly $9.6 million, resulting in interest payment savings of $747,000. The savings represent nearly 8% of the bonds that remain. In addition, the sale of the former Edison Elementary to the charter school Keys Grace Academy will net the district another $1.9 million over 10 years.

“This operating millage is just another step in demonstrating that we’re trying to regain the trust of our taxpayers,” Abdulahad said. “We did the refunding of the bonds; we got off the state watch list. But just because we’re in recovery mode doesn’t mean we take the foot off the gas — we have to continue to practice fiscal responsibility. We are not out of the woods yet, but we’re making progress.

“We are definitely appreciative of the taxpayers,” he said. “They have shown that they trust us, and we will not let them down. We’re going to continue to be open and transparent, with plenty of town hall meetings to discuss any future plans. We also have a tab on our district website that shows where we are at any given point.”

Looking ahead, Holder said the 2021-22 school year will continue to be in person, but there will still be virtual classes offered for those who feel more comfortable learning remotely. One difference is that this time the virtual classes will be led by different instructors.

As for in-person learning, Holder said that the district will follow the mandates issued by the state and federal government, but otherwise the day-to-day operations of the district will more closely resemble pre-pandemic times, with masks not required and closer distancing allowed.

“Should the guidelines (from the state and federal government) change, we’ll act accordingly — we will work within those parameters,” Holder said. “And we’re still being diligent in spending.”

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