Oxford High graduates celebrate bittersweet graduation: 'We have held each other up'

School funding requests fill Tuesday's primary ballot

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit school districts are asking voters to approve funding requests on Tuesday's primary ballot, from a non-homestead millage renewal for Detroit public schools that would raise $65 million a year to a $200 million school improvement bond in Bloomfield Hills schools.

The request by the Detroit Public Schools Community District to renew 18 mills for 11 years is especially important, school board president Iris Taylor said, because it will allow the district to continue to repay the operating debt held by the district's predecessor, Detroit Public Schools.

Students desks and other materials are stacked up in the Dickinson West Elementary School hallway as crews prepare classrooms for this year's social distancing requirements.

The renewal does not increase current taxes and only applies to owners of rental properties, business properties and vacation homes. Taxpayers living in their own principal residences or owner-occupied homes do not pay this tax for the state's largest school district.

"By investing in our schools through this millage renewal, we can continue to attract and retain families and businesses in Detroit, foster strong neighborhoods and keep our property values strong," Taylor said.

DPSCD undergoes annual independent financial audits that are available to the public online, Taylor said.

"Every penny in this fiscally responsible proposal will be tracked, and monthly financial reports will continue to be posted to our website to ensure transparency, accountability and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely," Taylor said.

According to a Financial Review Commission report, DPS’s principal debt obligation balance was $2.043 billion in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30. That includes $1.437 billion capital debt, $366.4 million operating debt and $239.5 million School Loan Revolving Fund debt. 

The capital debt is projected to be paid off by 2052, the operating debt is projected to be paid off by 2027 and the revolving fund debt final mandatory repayment date is May 1, 2046, the commission report said.

Because school districts cannot use general operating funds for school building improvements, Hamtramck Public Schools is asking voters to approve a $35 million bond proposal for improvements to aging school buildings and to eliminate the use of portable classrooms.

Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed said the need for additional funding is critical. One of the district's buildings dates back to 1896, Ahmed said.

Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed poses among 10 mobile classrooms at Dickinson  West Elementary School.

"The proposal would allow the HPS to make improvements throughout the district and construct a new school building to strengthen the learning environment by eliminating portable classrooms," she said.

"You can see the inequities in the portables," Ahmed said. "It is not conducive to teaching or learning. It’s a fragmented school and they don’t have the school culture and environment there."

If approved, the bond would allow the district to build a 37,000-square-foot elementary school that would serve students in K-6. Money would also be used to replace windows and HVAC systems in six remaining school buildings.

In Oakland County, the Bloomfield Hills School District is asking voters to approve a $200 million bond for updates to all school sites that district officials say will improve safety and provide enhanced spaces for teaching and learning.

Jokaz Interiors, LLC owner Djoka Dedvukaj, of Sterling Heights, paints the interior of this mobile classroom. He and his crew have also done plastering and painting work in the main building.

Additions to school buildings are to include gyms, cafeterias, classrooms, a pool and secure entryways. The bond would also be used to remodel and refurnish school buildings, athletic fields, playgrounds and other facilities and construct a new transportation and maintenance warehouse center.

If the bond passes, the district will reconfigure buildings to have four K-5 elementary schools and two 6-8th grade middle schools. In 2023, it plans to change attendance boundary lines but not district boundary lines.

"We have constructed a plan with the help of stakeholders representative of our entire community that repurposes existing structures rather than building all new, aligns our grade levels across the district to preserve valuable opportunities, and is a vision for the next 50-60 years of our collective future," Bloomfield Hills superintendent Pat Watson said.

In other races:

The exterior of Dickinson West Elementary School, right, and Kosciuszko Middle School, left.

►Grosse Ile Township Schools is asking voters to approve a renewal of its general operating millage of 21.3276 mills.

The renewal is the 18 mills the state allows the district to levy on non-Homestead property plus another 3.5042 mills the district is allowed to collect as a "hold harmless district," Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch said.

"There is no increase to taxpayers because it is a renewal," Lelekatch said.

If approved, it would raise about $2.25 million in 2021 for general operating costs such as teacher salaries, utilities and classroom costs.

►The Waterford School District is asking for $150 million in bonds to pay for constructing and furnishing a new early childhood center; replacing school buses and making building additions to school buildings. It would also allow the district to upgrade and buy safety and security equipment.

►South Lyon Community Schools is asking for approval of a $98.7 million school improvement bond to construct additions in school buildings to accommodate growth in enrollment and maximize instructional space.

Bond money would also be used for student safety and school security; technology infrastructure and equipment upgrades; building updates and furniture replacement, the district said.