Residents across Wayne County are being asked to approve a 2-mill tax increase for schools countywide. The measure on the Aug. 5 primary ballot would translate into an additional $379 per student for six years, and schools could use the money however they’d like. It’s too large a request of taxpayers, and they should vote no.
The Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency is bringing this request to voters because under state law, only intermediate school districts have the ability to raise additional school operating revenue.
Under the millage request, Wayne RESA would raise an additional $80 million a year for districts. Property owners across Wayne County would pay an extra $200 each year for every $100,000 of taxable property value.
Individual public school districts are limited in what they can request in addition to the 18-mill non-homestead tax.
Usually these bond or millage proposals are for technology upgrades and infrastructure improvements.
This so-called education enhancement option for intermediate school districts to raise funds was included in Proposal A when extensive school funding reforms passed 20 years ago.
It’s an opportunity for districts countywide to increase revenue above their state per-pupil foundation grant.
According to Wayne RESA, there are 33 schools districts in the county, which serve about 226,000 students. Although there are also 114 charter schools within the county, these schools would not benefit from the per-pupil funding boost — another stipulation in state law.
The Wayne ISD considered a similar proposal four years ago, but the millage request didn’t make it on the ballot.
Earlier this year, district officials across Wayne County voted on the measure. Under the law, if school boards representing more than 50 percent of a county’s K-12 public school students support the millage proposal, it’s placed on the ballot.
In this case, school boards representing at least 57 percent of students in the county’s public schools voted in favor of the measure.
One of the most vocal districts in support of the millage is Detroit Public Schools.
Steven Wasko, spokesman for DPS, says the district was one of the original backers of this proposal. He says district officials want to assure residents that the money “would be put to good and responsible use.”
The district envisions using the additional funding for a variety of uses, from arts education to air quality and lighting improvements.
DPS clearly would be the largest beneficiary if the tax increase passes, with an enrollment of nearly 49,000 students.
Not all districts are supportive. The Northville Board of Education voted unanimously in April against the proposed enhancement millage.
If this measure would pass, Northville school officials don’t like that some communities — including their own — would ultimately generate more revenue from the tax than what would be distributed back to the school district.
In other words, they would be subsidizing poorer districts like Detroit Public Schools.
On its website, Northville Public Schools offers this example. The 2-mill increase would generate more than $5 million in tax revenue from Northville taxpayers in its first year, with Northville schools receiving back only $2.8 million.
Some districts oppose the enhancement millage because it interferes with other bond and millage proposals they have in the works or that they passed in recent years.
The recently approved Michigan K-12 budget includes $13.9 billion for schools, which is a 4 percent increase over current levels. Rather than turn to taxpayers for more money, districts in Wayne County should strive to work within budget realities, as other districts are doing across the state.
Given the significant tax increase over six years, and the lack of safeguards to make sure the funds are spent wisely, Wayne County voters should say no to this proposal.