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Voters Return Split Results in School Tax Requests

Renewals Pass, but Two Major Bonds Defeated

While voters statewide roundly thumped Proposal 1 in Tuesday’s elections, Kent County residents delivered mixed results to five local school districts.

Voters narrowly approved a bond issue for Godwin Heights, and comfortably passed tax renewals in Caledonia, Forest Hills and Kentwood. But they defeated major bond requests from Kenowa Hills and Kentwood, leaving officials there wondering how to increase security, replace buses and improve technology without new money.

“We’ll continue to press forward and do the best we can with the resources we have,” said Kenowa Hills Superintendent Gerald Hopkins. The bond requests in his district and in Kentwood were among the 10 highest in the state, only five of which passed, according to the MIRS news service.

Mixed Messages from Tuesday Elections

  • Caledonia renewal: YES
  • Forest Hills renewal: YES
  • Godwin Heights bond: YES
  • Kenowa Hills bond: NO
  • Kentwood renewal: YES
  • Kentwood bond: NO

Here’s a recap of results in the five Kent ISD districts that made tax requests.

Kenowa Hills Public Schools
Requested: $78.6 million bond issue, 1.65 mills
For: building security, enhanced technology, facility improvements and bus replacement
Voters said: NO, 3,304 – yes, 2,004

Five years after approving a $14.3 million bond issue, Kenowa voters decisively denied a $78.6 million request for greater security measures, better technology and ongoing needs such as new roofs and buses.

With 62 percent of voters rejecting the request, Superintendent Gerald Hopkins said it’s time for tough decisions on needed improvements.

“It’s a blow, for sure,” Hopkins said. “We will certainly take a look at what our voters have said. We believe they were informed at the polls, so it reflects their feelings.”

He and the Kenowa Hills Board of Education planned to meet next week with GMB Architecture + Engineering to review the results and decide next steps.

“Those needs aren’t going to go away,” Hopkins said of the bond’s target items.

He cited aging roofs out of warranty, 17-year-old boilers, and three buses that must be replaced at $85,000 each. Improved security entrances and cameras, a high priority of a district study committee, will have to be discussed with the architects, he said.

“Our challenge is, how do we address some of those concerns that have surfaced from our community, without having the resources the proposal would have provided?”

One encouraging sign was that there were nearly 500 more “yes” votes than in the 2010 bond approval, Hopkins added, but noted that vote did not result in a tax increase. The overwhelming defeat of Proposal 1 on the same ballot Tuesday may have also hurt, and probably increased turnout, he said.

“There’s no question the economy is getting stronger, but it’s still a time when all of Michigan’s residents have to be very conscientious and careful about where they spend their money. Although we have tremendous support for education in our community, that’s still a real factor to consider.”

Kentwood Public Schools
District Proposal 1
Requested: $64.86 million bond, extending debt millage of about 1.23 mills
For: Technology, buses, security upgrades, athletic facility improvements
Voters said: NO, 4,407 – yes, 4,054

District Proposal 2
Requested: Building and Site Sinking Fund Renewal, 1.6 mills
For: Ongoing facility repairs, such as roof and parking-lot replacements, heating and cooling upgrades; generates about $3.2 million annually
Voters said: YES, 4,974 – no, 3,253

Voters rejected a request that would have provided $64.86 million for security, technology, buses and facility upgrades. However, they approved the renewal of a sinking-fund levy that provides about $3 million for ongoing building needs.

Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said he’s re-evaluating district needs in light of the split vote. Approval of the bond would have extended the current debt millage without increasing the current tax rate.

“The fact that the bond vote was so close means that we need to better identify what was needed and why it was needed,” Zoerhoff said. “We will continue to assess what is needed in the days ahead and keep the community apprised of our next steps.”

Zoerhoff said community members are valued partners and the district is committed to using their funds responsibly and carefully. However, he added, “(T)his does not change the fact that we are committed to providing an education of excellence to every child within our district.”

About 25 percent of bond funds would have gone toward technology; 30 percent toward redesigned media centers; 25 percent toward safety and security upgrades; and 20 percent toward site improvements including athletic fields.

Godwin Heights Public Schools
Requested: $14.1 million bond issue, 3.2-mill renewal
For: safety and security, technology, new busses, and facilities, athletic and energy upgrades
Voters said: YES, 603 – No, 561

Voters’ narrow approval of a 15-year, $14.1 million bond will enable the school district to make essential improvements to equipment and school buildings, officials say.

“Our community was given a voice through the democratic process,” Superintendent Bill Fetterhoff said. “I am deeply appreciative of the support they have shown for the Godwin Heights Public Schools community. The results of their support will strengthen our district’s mission and vision for years to come.”

The bond will pay for new security entrances, technology upgrades, new flooring and classroom furniture, and HVAC system improvements. The district also plans to reconstruct the tennis courts and softball field, fill in the high school’s indoor pool to create an auxiliary gym, purchase three buses, and improve traffic flow with new bus loops and drop-off areas for parents.

Synthetic turf will replace natural grass on the football field, which will also be used for soccer games. Two new locker rooms, a new concession stand and new restrooms will be built.

Forest Hills Public Schools
Requested: non-homestead 18-mill renewal
For: Operations
Voters said: YES, 8,487 – No, 2,577

In renewing the district’s 18-mill non-homestead millage for operations, voters provided operational revenue through 2025, plus a small cushion should increased property values trigger the Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment.  Under Headlee, the district would have to roll back its millage if property values grew at a higher rate than inflation. Since voters actually approved up to 18.3424 mills, the district would be allowed to begin its rollback starting at the higher millage rate, but by law it can’t levy more than 18 mills. The renewal provides an estimated $15 million in revenue next year.

Caledonia Community Schools
Requested: non-homestead 18-mill renewal
For: Operations
Voters said: YES, 3,213 – No, 1,722

Approval of Caledonia’s non-homestead operating millage maintains the current levy of 18 mills and extends it through 2020. The levy is a zero-increase extension of taxes on businesses and second homes, such as vacation homes and rentals, and does not pertain to primary residences. The renewal will raise approximately $8.1 million in 2016.


Kent County school election results

Statewide election results

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