East Grand Rapids Public Schools is the only Kent County school district with a March 8 tax proposal — a trio of them, in fact. The requests are not new for the district, but Superintendent Sara Shubel thinks they still bear explaining, particularly for new residents and for those who do not have children in school.
Until recently, it looked like explaining the requests was going to prove difficult.
EGR was affected by PA 269, a campaign finance law signed in December by Gov. Rick Snyder. The law included a provision prohibiting public bodies from distributing information about ballot proposals 60 days before an election, something superintendents and local governments have said prevents them from explaining important issues to citizens.
A federal judge on Friday put the so-called “gag order” on hold, ruling that it is unconstitutionally vague.
Groups representing 18 local government and school leaders filed a lawsuit against the state and asked the court for an injunction to stop enforcement of the 60-day prohibition while the case works its way through the court.
Shubel said EGR is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, “but we strongly support having some type of resolution where we are able to have factual information presented to our community.”
Before the ban was lifted, she said she planned to speak with families during upcoming PTO meetings to provide information about the proposals, and the ballot proposals would be explained on the district’s website, though no mention of them being there would have been permitted. Now, said Judie Malec, Shubel’s secretary, information on the requests will be included in all building newsletters, and the district has asked the city of East Grand Rapids to post information as well.
Two of the district’s millage renewal requests are for the state-authorized non-homestead tax on industrial and commercial properties, which does not include primary residences. The third is for capital repairs and improvements.
Kevin Philipps, assistant superintendent for business, said voters will see the three questions because the district’s revenue is reduced by the Headlee amendment, which limits increases to the rate of inflation. Because of that, this year EGR only levied 17.1 mills, even though 18 mills is the norm and maximum non-homestead millage that can be levied.
He said this school year the district lost $55,000 due to the Headlee reduction, because state funding assumes the local community will provide the full 18 mills allowed by law. State aid makes up the difference between the per-pupil foundation grant and the amount generated by the 18-mill non homestead tax.
Proposal 1 will ask voters to renew that core 17.1 mills for four years, 2016 to 2019, while Proposal Il authorizes an additional two mills. The district can only levy the 18, but the additional two mills protects EGR if it suffers Headlee reductions in the future, Philipps said.
“This isn’t brand new for the community, but unfortunately we can’t explain it to them en masse,” Philipps said. “We just want to make sure people realize the district is always going to levy only 18 mills, and if this is not supported, we would lose about $1.1 million in per-pupil funding (if the renewal is not approved). There would be very drastic budget reductions.”
The third question, a proposed building and site sinking fund renewal for capital repairs and improvements, is for a levy not to exceed 0.5 mill for a period of 10 years, 2016 to 2025. The district would collect an estimated $344,987 in 2016.
If all three questions are approved, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 would continue to pay about $75 a year for the renewals.
In 2014, East Grand Rapids voters approved a $30.9 million school bond request. Those funds were specifically allocated for technology, facility and security upgrades.