Proposition 1 opposition dooms local ballot measures

Ursula Watson and Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

School millages appear to be have been collateral damage Tuesday as voters’ resoundingly rejected Proposal 1.

The road funding initiative was defeated statewide 79 percent to 21 percent and by an even wider margin in Macomb County, where millages for Lake Shore, Clintondale and Armada also went down by double digits.

In Wayne County, voters turned back school initiatives in Riverview and Van Buren, while in Oakland the funding requests lost in Pontiac and Huron Valley.

Susan Demas, editor and publisher for Inside Michigan Politics, said many millage requests did surprisingly well in light of Proposal 1 going down in flames, but the complicated road funding plan did seem to have a negative effect in Macomb.

“Macomb is always a very interesting area and in the past has been known as the bellwether county,” Demas said. “Proposal 1 failed spectacularly in Macomb County and I think the anti-tax argument was very potent there. I do think that had some effect on those down-ballot issues.”

Voters in the Lake Shore Public Schools district defeated a $35 million bond proposal to provide a technology infrastructure upgrade, increase security and pay for facility repairs by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

“There was a lot of negativity and distrust around Proposal 1 and it is hard to overcome that mountain,” said Christopher Loria, Lake Shore Public Schools superintendent.

“I also think that the way we had to word our proposal led people to vote no. Unfortunately, we don’t have much control on the ballot language.”

Armada Area Schools voters rejected a $4.1 million bond issue for technology and facility upgrades, 56 percent to 43 percent.

“Proposal 1 had a lot to do with the no votes in Armada,” said Michael G. Musary, Armada Schools superintendent. “A lot of negativity was brought to the polls.”

Musary and Loria said the bond issues in their respective districts were initially well received by voters. Now, Armada and Lake Shore plan to regroup.

For Musary, the next move could be putting a bond issue on the ballot in November.

“It’s still too soon to say if we are going to do that,” he said.

Voters in Clintondale Community Schools rejected two proposals: an operating millage replacement, 55 percent to 44 percent, and an operating millage, 57 percent to 42 percent.

In Wayne County, the Riverview Community School District had the largest bond proposal on the ballot Tuesday.

It sought voter approval of two proposals that totaled nearly $25 million. The first, which would have raised $19.9 million, was a 2.8-mill increase to pay to improve student safety, upgrade technology infrastructure and renovate schools. The other, which would raise $4.7 million, was a 0.9-mill increase, to expand the swimming pool at Seitz Middle School and replace the swimming pool at Riverview High School with a Community Health & Fitness Area.

Each proposal lost by about 200 votes, according to unofficial results.

Russell Pickell, superintendent of Riverview Community Schools, called the rejection “a heart-breaking close defeat.”

Voters in the district rejected similar proposals in November.

Pickell said district officials will analyze the election data and determine their next step.

“Clearly, we had a proposal out there that was very polarizing,” he said. “We’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and take the information that we gather and try to structure something that the community can embrace.”

He said the earliest the district could put another proposal before voters is the November election.

Pickell said he has not yet met with the school board and discussed the matter.

“We’ll have to come up with a plan and make a commitment at some point,” he said. “But it won’t be a knee-jerk reaction to this.”

Like Pickell, Michael Van Tassel, superintendent of the Van Buren Public Schools, said defeat of the proposal to renew the district’s sinking fund was disappointing.

Voters in 2008 approved the fund, which is used only to pay for repairs to the district’s buildings and facilities.

But on Tuesday, voters rejected by just over 1,000 votes a seven-year renewal, which would have allowed the district to levy up to 1.13 mills, generating about $1.7 million next year.

“Sinking funds, schools asking for money for any reason is just difficult,” Van Tassel said. “It’s one of the few things people can say ‘no’ to and they’re tired of paying taxes. But I’m not so sure the no votes yesterday were about our schools. Prop 1 had an impact.”

Van Tassel said the district will figure out its next move.

“Our first step is going to be to analyze what exactly the voters were saying,” he said. “We’ll meet with the Board of Education at a work study this month and try to figure out what our game plan is going to be: whether we want to try again or try a different version.”

Van Tassel said the district could present another sinking fund proposal in either the August or November election.

Officials planned to use the money from the renewal for several projects, including upgrades to school heating and cooling systems, boiler replacement and renovation of parking lots and sidewalks.

He said since the proposal was defeated, the district will have to address its most pressing needs with money from the general fund and what’s left of the previous sinking fund. Other projects will have to be put on hold, he said.

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