On May 2, voters in the Kent ISD region will be asked to approve a 0.9 mill tax for local school districts, generating $211 per student to maintain programs, improve services and meet other needs. School News Network is offering information on what the millage means for each of the 20 districts in the Kent ISD. Today we focus on Grandville Public Schools. SNN spoke with Superintendent Roger Bearup.
How much revenue would your district gain from the millage in the first year? $1.1 million
What would you spend that increased revenue on, and how would this help your students? “If approved, the millage funds will provide additional mental-health counselors for our students. We’re also committed to reducing the class size in our kindergarten programs.
“We’re seeing a need, as everyone is, for counselors to help build connections with kids and their families, and connections to resources in the community. We’re seeing that need at all grade levels, and that’s an area that, from a general fund perspective, we can’t draw from. Mental health impacts our communities, and it obviously impacts student achievement.
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“If there is one area we’re seeing that is the most crucial in our society right now, it is providing services when kids have anxiety and depression — things in their lives that are impacting their learning and their growth. To me that is paramount, and there is a huge need.”
Bearup said kindergarten class sizes are typically in the mid to upper 20s. “When we get at those levels, we generally look at trying to add some support. But instead of adding another body in the classroom, we’d like to get the size down to the low 20s, so we can focus more on early literacy.”
If the millage were to fail, what changes or cuts would you have to make next school year? “We’re below a 6 percent fund balance right now,” Bearup said. The recommended fund balance for Michigan schools is 15 to 20 percent, according to the Michigan School Business Officials. “A lot of what we would look at cutting depends on (state) school funding. Many of the reports are that we might get an increase, but they never really keep up with the cost of living.
“There are districts that are at that survival ‘cliff’ point. We’re not there yet, but we’re not far away. We would have to look at the pie we have and say ‘What other services will we be eliminating?’ It really comes down to what is the priority?”
What objections have you heard, if any, from your community, and what is your response? “I haven’t heard a lot of pushback when people understand what the money would be spent on at the local level. At the same time, for us, a challenge is that we had a bond issue ($75.2 million in 2013 to expand and renovate buildings, and for technology and security upgrades) and a sinking fund pass relatively recently (2016 renewal for maintenance and repairs). From those things we have very nice facilities, so people think ‘You must have money.’ But we can’t spend bond money or sinking funds on services for pupils. That is why this is so crucial.”