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Editorial: Vote 'no' on Wayne RESA school millage

The Detroit News Editorial Board

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Schools across Michigan are facing tremendous challenges as they figure out how to educate their students during a pandemic. These additional pressures come with new costs. We understand that. But we don’t think offering districts extra funding without any strings attached is the right answer. 

Voters in Wayne County are once again being asked to support a countywide enhancement millage to benefit public schools. It’s a sizable boon for schools, since administrators can use the funding from the millage any way they want. 

Voters in Wayne County are once again being asked to support a countywide enhancement millage to benefit public schools.

County voters are asked to approve a six-year renewal of a 2-mill tax, which would take effect in 2022 once the current millage passed in 2016 expires in 2021. The funding is distributed through Wayne RESA, the county’s intermediate school district.

In coming to voters a full year before the current measure expires, Wayne RESA is clearly hoping voter turnout this presidential election will go in its favor. We'd rather see the district take another year and make a better case for why the tax should continue. Plus, Wayne RESA should first do everything in its power to coordinate services and reduce burdens on local districts before expecting residents to shell out even more. It could also go to the Legislature and make the case for specific funding needs.

The measure would raise an estimated $90.4 million its first year — about $300 per student — and Wayne RSEA Superintendent Randy Liepa has said the average homeowner would pay around $96 a year

The additional funds are allocated evenly on a per-pupil basis, but wealthier areas of the county such as Grosse Pointe and Northville with higher home property values are on the hook for a much greater burden of the tax. This was a problem four years ago, with some school boards arguing it was an unfair way to boost funding across the county.

Some of those concerns seem to have dissipated this time around, as districts have gotten used to the new funding stream. 

And unlike in 2016, charter schools would stand to benefit once the renewed enhancement millage takes effect in 2022. That’s because the Legislature fixed the problem with a 2018 law making it clear that charters should be included in such millages. 

Especially in Wayne County, where charter schools are prevalent and serve low-income students in Detroit and elsewhere, these schools and the students who attend them shouldn’t be shut out.

This new provision makes the tax more fair.

But we still caution voters against the measure at this point and urge a no vote on the enhancement millage until the intermediate district makes a stronger case for renewal. 

Endorsements are determined independently by The Detroit News Editorial Board and have no influence on news coverage.