Multiple districts — Local districts went two-for-three in Tuesday’s elections, with voters in Kelloggsville and East Grand Rapids approving tax requests for school improvements. However, Cedar Springs voters turned down a proposed renewal of a 10-year-old sinking fund for facility, safety and technology maintenance and improvements.
By an unofficial 634-524 count, Kelloggsville voters approved a 22-year, $11.3 million bond that the district said would not increase taxes above the current rate but would allow it to make a number of valuable educational improvements.
These include the construction and addition of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) building at Kelloggsville High School; a new media center at Southeast Elementary; technology upgrades to enhance instruction and more.
Eric Alcorn, director of human resources, said taxes won’t increase because when the district recently refinanced its 2015 debt it saved more than $2 million, allowing it to keep the rate at 7.32 mills.
He was grateful for continued support from the district’s voters for the new learning areas.
“We want to thank our community for approving the funding for the STEM building and media center,” Alcorn said. “Once completed, both areas will provide space and opportunity for our students to explore their interests and enhance their learning experience. We cannot thank our community enough for their support.”
At the high school, Alcorn said, the goal is “to give students an exceptional facility that will provide opportunities for STEM, robotics and business classes.”
The elementary school’s media center similarly will expand opportunities for students, Alcorn added.
“Media centers today need to be adaptable, personal and hands-on with a focus on project-based learning,” he said. “We want to be able to help build on every student’s ability to use technology.”
Alcorn added the district will begin the design stage very soon, and that the entire project will take approximately two years.
In the last decade, Kelloggsville has had a number of bond proposals successfully pass, including a $33.9 million ballot measure for the high school addition in 2015 and a $19.2 million measure for Central Elementary School in 2018.
East Grand Rapids
In East Grand Rapids, a renewed and slightly increased version of a successful 2004 millage for recreation programs was approved 2,029-1,212, much to the delight of Anthony Morey, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.
He said the district was “extremely grateful for the ongoing support of the community as demonstrated by the strong vote of approval for the recreation millage.”
He added: “Since 2004, the millage has supported after-school programming that has not only enriched the lives of our students but also has protected vital resources for our core educational mission. Knowing these millage resources will now be available to the next generation of students is critical to our long-term strategic plan and our goal to ensure stability in programming.”
The millage has offset costs to operate athletic, performing arts and classroom facilities for after-school programs. The new proposal was for 1.5 mills for 20 years, up 0.1 from the 1.4 mills in the 2004 millage. The increase was calculated to approximately offset the three Headlee rollback millage rate reductions that may occur in 2022, 2023 and 2024, before the new recreation millage is levied for the first time.
In a letter to families, East Grand Rapids Public Schools noted that the owner of a $500,000 home with a taxable value of $250,000 would pay about $375 a year under the proposed 2024 millage, an increase of $80 from the current $295.
Though the 2004 millage is not set to expire for two more years, Morey said the district wanted to be proactive and not run right up against the renewal deadline.
East is one of four districts in Kent ISD’s coverage area to levy a recreation millage, along with Forest Hills, Northview and Rockford.
In Cedar Springs, a request to renew the district’s 1 mill sinking fund millage failed by a vote of 1,968 to 1,456.
“Obviously, the results of the election were not what we were hoping for,” Superintendent Scott Smith said. “Regardless the outcome of the popular vote, Cedar Springs Public Schools remains committed to doing our best to support our students in the classroom and in their extracurricular activities.”
School districts use sinking funds to pay for projects like safety improvements, repairs and technology upgrades as they become necessary, instead of having to request a bond millage.
“We are still extremely grateful for the $68 million school building and site bonds passed in 2020,” Chief Financial Officer Chris LaHaie said. “This defeat means that we simply will be unable to move forward with several aspects of our facility improvement and revitalization plan.”
Added Smith: “This will result in us having fewer dollars to spend in the classrooms.”
Besides ongoing building repairs and safety improvements, the district had planned to use sinking funds to fund projects like a campus fitness trail, water bottle refilling stations, new building signage, track updates and a technology refresh. Going forward, Smith said they “will have to say ‘no'” to projects like these.
“We carefully evaluate each dollar spent in order to be good stewards of our community’s resources,” Smith said. “We will continue to use that strategy moving forward. It may mean that we will have to put off some repairs and scale back on, or eliminate, some projects all together. As repairs or other facility needs arise, we will need to use general fund dollars to pay for them.”
Beth Heinen Bell contributed to this report