Voters in the Ann Arbor school district will go to the polls tomorrow to decide a tax issue. The district is asking approval of a measure to replace, extend and increase an existing sinking fund millage. As 89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan reports, district officials have been holding community informational sessions to try and win support.
"We're asking to move from 1 mill to 2.5 mills."
That’s been the message at all five of the community information meetings Ann Arbor school officials have held leading up to the May 2nd election. At a recent public meeting at Scarlett Middle School, Superintendent Jeanice Swift pointed out why the greater financial investment is needed.
"Our average age of our school buildings is over 60 years old, and, in fact, five of our buildings will turn 100 years old here in the next four years. So it is time to really think about a deeper renewal of infrastructure."
Swift says, if the millage is approved, it would raise $200 million over 10 years to repair, remodel, and construct school buildings. District resident Ellen Clement listened closely to the superintendent but was not convinced.
"I’m just saying that as citizen who pays taxes and who generally likes to support the schools and likes quality schools, quality facilities, I don't think we need to be chintzy, but this is a very large increase. And I don't think that it’s at all straightforward."
Simone McDaniel was also listening. She is a district parent and a member of the Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee.
"The state restricts the ways we can spend money so this is one of the local ways that we can raise money for our specific needs, instead of the state saying oh we think you will need X amount, we're here in our community and we see what the needs are."
Clement says she wants the district to continue succeeding, but this millage proposal is the result of past policy decisions.
"I feel like we've become a school of choice district, and then, all of a sudden, the whole criteria for this infrastructure increase is based upon increases in numbers of students. Well, how many school of choice students do we have? We are sort of poaching from the neighboring district of Ypsilanti, weakening their school district and this just doesn't make sense to me necessarily to pay for the infrastructure to take children from a district that is more than able to educate them."
According to the district, Ann Arbor Public Schools has about 1,300 school of choice students.
McDaniel says the revenue generated from the millage would help more than just building classrooms, it would benefit some crumbling outdoor facilities as well. In fact, she pointed out some of the damage as we stood next to the sports facilities at Scarlett Middle School.
"There's a big crack and lines in the tennis courts, also, outside in the fields here. Last year, my daughter sprained her ankle by stepping in a giant hole in the softball field while she was playing softball. It's really important that these fields and outdoor facilities are maintained."
So, what happens if voters turn down the millage proposal on Tuesday? Superintendent Jeanice Swift says failure at the ballots would limit district options.
“What we’ll do is really manage through emergencies, that’s, we’ll repair things as they break and do the best that we can with our general fund dollars.”
That also concerns McDaniel. She says if general funds are used for building and infrastructure projects it could take away from academic programs, and won’t solve the problem.
“We need the ten years because you don’t only want to fix the immediate need you also want to be ready for things you don’t anticipate or things that just wear out over time. We all put money away for that rainy day when our roof goes bad, we may let that roof go one more year and then risk having even more damage and that’s even more expensive. We want our district to be fiscally responsible and make investments in our buildings not just now but be ready for those things that come up as time passes.”
If voters approve the millage, it would cost the average homeowner about $375 a year through 2026. Polls will be open on Tuesday from 7am until 8pm in the Ann Arbor school district.
To view virtual tours of the buildings the district says need repair, click here.
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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org