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District Depending on Tax Renewal to Maintain Momentum

Request Would Raise $30 Million, No Tax Increase

Nearly one-third of the school district’s state-funded operating dollars will be on the line when voters consider a non-homestead property tax renewal next Tuesday, Nov. 7.

GRPS is asking voters to renew an expiring millage, last approved in 2009, which would allow the district to continue levying a maximum of 18 mills for 10 years on industrial and commercial properties and second homes. The tax would raise about $30.1 million for general operations – a major chunk of the $105 million the district receives in general fund dollars from the state. The levy would not increase current taxes and does not apply to primary homes.

The Request: a Breakdown
Voters will be asked on Tuesday, Nov. 7 to approve a renewal of a non-homestead property tax for Grand Rapids Public Schools. A yes vote would:

  • Renew the millage last approved by voters in 2009, which expires this year
  • Not increase current taxes
  • Allow the district to continue to levy up to 18 mills ($1 per $1,000 of taxable property valuation) on industrial and commercial properties and second homes, through 2027
  • Levy no taxes on principal homes
  • Provide approximately $30.1 million for general operations

Sources: Kent County, Grand Rapids Public Schools

“We’re getting state and national attention as an urban success story of public schools,” said John Helmholdt, GRPS executive director of communications and external affairs. “This millage is essential for maintaining that stability, the momentum and the growth.”

The ballot language designates an increase of up to 19 mills, but the district is only authorized to levy 18 by state law. Under the so-called Headlee Rollback, districts must reduce their tax rate if property values increase faster than the inflation rate. As in the previously approved millage in 2009, the 1-mill margin assures the district can still levy the full 18 mills if the Headlee Rollback applies.

“We’re building in a cushion to ensure there wouldn’t actually be a budget cut,” Helmholdt said.

Renewal of the millage, in place since it was authorized by state Proposal A in 1994, is crucial to the district’s approximately 16,676 students, Helmholdt said.

“These are general operating dollars that fund the core of our business, which is teaching and learning,” he said. Should it fail, he added, it would “completely destabilize our district.”

“There is really no way for the district to sustain a $30 million cut. We have barely $10 million in our rainy day fund. So it would be massive layoffs and school closures.”

In a mailing being sent to district families and voters, Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said renewing the millage is key to GRPS continuing as “a state and national example for urban education.” She pointed to enrollment and attendance increases and a nearly 50 percent rise in graduation rates over the past five years.

False Flyer Raises Concerns

Although the millage previously passed by a 2-to-1 margin, officials are not taking approval for granted. They’re concerned voters may have been misled by false claims made in a flyer circulated by an opposition group, the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association.

The group’s leader, Michael Farage, publically apologized for misrepresenting claims the flyer attributed to an MLive reporter that GRPS had to refund “millions” to the state for over-counting students. Reporter Monica Scott said the information was not true and that she had not discussed it with Farage or anyone else with the Taxpayers Association. Farage said up to 11,000 flyers had been mailed to absentee voters, but that he had removed it from the group’s Facebook page, according to an MLive report.

“This should be a real no-brainer,” Helmholdt said of the millage request, “but because you have a group out there that’s putting out false and misleading information, we’ve had to step up the campaign.”

Farage could not be reached for comment.

CONNECT

GRPS Q&A about Non-Homestead Millage Renewal

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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