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District tries again for Headlee override to restore full funding

Nov. 5 request for non-homestead tax approval

Last November, Caledonia schools received some disappointing news when voters narrowly defeated the district’s request to restore full funding to its non-homestead millage.

This year, according to Superintendent Dedrick Martin, the school community is hoping for a different result, including the ability to add safety features to buildings, a STEM program and more support for music and athletics, along with teaching staff.

Students produce the Caledonia High School news, one of the programs the district encourages

The Nov. 5 ballot proposal asks voters to restore full tax funding of 18 mills, plus a buffer (see below) of an additional 1.43 mills for the year 2020 on non-homestead properties, such as industrial, commercial, business, rental and vacation properties. This restored tax would not apply to a typical homeowner with just a primary residence.

The district’s state-authorized 18-mill levy accounts for nearly a third of Caledonia’s per-student revenue. The millage had been reduced to 17.8452 mills by legislation called the Headlee Amendment, which requires a millage reduction when annual growth on existing property is greater than the rate of inflation.

Voters last year turned down, by 340 votes, a Headlee “override” request to restore the full 18 mills, resulting in a revenue loss to the schools of $71,300.

Martin said approval this time is key to supporting the district’s continuing growth and student success. “Our school community is growing; to accommodate this growth, our schools seek to restore the millage rate at the same levels that we have utilized to support school operations for 24 years,” he said.

“Caledonia Community Schools have a proven track record of success inside and outside the classroom, and this proposal will allow us to build on that proud tradition of excellence and keep our home and property values high,” Martin said.

He proudly points to the district’s 93 percent graduation rate, well above the state average, and students consistently scoring above state and countywide averages on state assessments.

Tax Facts

In 2015, Caledonia passed a five-year operating millage to levy 18 mills from 2015 – 2020. Because of the Headlee Rollback amendment, which “rolls back” the tax rate to equal the rate of inflation, the operating millage started decreasing from the state limit in 2018. With each year of decline, the district receives less money from the operating millage that accounts for 17 percent of total funds to run the district, Martin said.

If the requested 1.8 mill increase passes, the district will receive 19.4399 mills, which is over the district’s 18 mill limit. “This 1.8 mills would restore us up to the 18 mills and would also provide a buffer for future years in the event we were Headlee reduced again,” said Sara Devries, director of finance for Caledonia schools. “This is allowable to ask voters for a millage for restoration and also for a future buffer.”

If the millage passes, there will not be an increase to taxes on personal residences. Martin explained “as your home increases or decreases in value, the amount you pay in taxes will increase or decrease accordingly, but the rate stays the same for all homeowners on their primary residence.”

School revenue losses as the non-homestead millage rate has been reduced. Source: Caledonia Public Schools

How it Would be Used 

According to district staff, if the millage is approved, it will generate an estimated $329,000 for Caledonia schools. It would be allocated in several ways including: 

  • security enhancements at buildings and facilities, such as school systems with additional security cameras;
  • updated instructional materials;
  • more teaching staff;
  • a new STEM education program;
  • more financial support for music programming and athletics.

“This millage deals with operational revenue that supports our day-to-day functions as a school district,” Martin said. “We have plans for additional investments into our overall educational system over the next several years.”

What Would be Lost

If the request is defeated again, the district would face a continuation of lost revenue, officials say: last year’s loss of $71,300; a loss this school year of $186,200; plus an estimated loss of $329,000 in 2020-21. If the entire non-homestead millage were not renewed after expiring next year the district would stand to lose about $9.3 million in 2021-2022, officials say.

“If the millage is not restored, the district will experience its third consecutive year of lost funding, which will lead to cuts in academic programs, arts and athletics in addition to layoffs down the road,” Martin said. “If we continue to lose revenue due to this millage reduction, we will have to reverse our recent investments and consider painful reductions across the board.”

For more information, visit the Caledonia Community Schools Website

If the millage passes, Caledonia schools will be fully funded under state law
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Hannah Lentz
Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit.

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