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Chippewa Valley Weighs in on Special Education Millage

The 1.2-mill property tax proposal, which local districts plan to use to offset the cost of special education programs, will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

In a few weeks, Macomb Township voters will head to the polls to pass or reject a , the proceeds of which will be used to offset recent state and federal funding losses in Macomb County's 21 school districts and the Macomb Intermediate School District.

The 1.2-mill property tax proposal, which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, is expected to raise $27.5 million, or $206 per pupil across the county when first levied in 2011. According to the MISD, this is approximately one-fourth of the $785 per student funding local schools are losing annually as compared to 2008.

"This is our only way to receive (additional) funding," said Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts. "This is in no way a silver bullet for our district, but it is the only way."

Roberts added that in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election, Chippewa Valley will use its cable station, email blasts, newsletters, word-of-mouth and any other resources at its disposal to offer additional explanation and statistics on the millage and its benefits if passed.

“It’s imperative that if you do believe in this, and you think it’s a good thing for our district, that you talk to those people you know, because for this to pass, people need to talk to people," Roberts said. "We need every single vote we can get ... it's all about who gets their people out to vote.”

Who benefits from the millage?

Approximately 1,793 Chippewa Valley students, or 11 percent of the district, currently benefit from special education programs and services–a $15 million a year budget cost. While $9 million of the $15 million is funded by state and federal grants, the remaining $6 million must come from the district's general education fund. 

With the passage of this millage, the district would be able to offset some of this $6 million cost, and use the funds that would normally have been used for special education for general education programs.

"If the proposal doesn’t pass, we will have an increased burden to provide services to students currently served by MISD programs," Roberts said.

According to MISD statistics, one in every seven students in the county receive some form of special education–be it speech and language therapy or classroom services.

In the first three years of the proposed 20-year millage, Chippewa Valley would receive approximately $3.3 million annually. For the remaining 17 years, it would receive around $1.7 million annually. Because the millage is designed to support MISD programs first, Chippewa Valley itself would get less in the last 17 years, but its students would still benefit from MISD programs.

"The bottom line is it’s just important to the overall health of district," Roberts said. "It will make a difference to kids. It will continue to allow us to provide services to our students that we might otherwise have to cut.” 

Cost for homeowners

The 1.2-mill increase equates to $1.20 per thousand dollars of taxable value, meaning the average homeowner ($59,630 taxable value) would pay 20 cents per day, or $71.56 per year.

Homeowners can calculate their exact cost with a special program on the MISD website.

If approved, the mill will be imposed for a period of 20 years, or 2011-2030, and the revenue from this millage will benefit Macomb's 21 school districts.

Editor's Note: It has come to the editor's attention that some statements in this article could be construed to suggest unlawful actions on the part of Chippewa Valley Schools. While the district does plan to distribute informational material on the ballot proposal, these materials will not ask recipients to vote one way or another. Any references to "campaign" or "endorsement" made in an earlier version of this article were words of the editor, not the district. These references have been removed to clarify the district's actions.

Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 12:01 PM
Hmmmm..... From their own Michigan Association of School Administrators: http://gomasa.org/services/ptos-and-politics "Public bodies (e.g., governmental entities like school districts) are prohibited by the Michigan Campaign Finance Act from spending public funds or other resources for campaign activities, including for the election or defeat of candidates or ballot proposals." Sounds like this violates campaign finance law, "Roberts added that in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election, Chippewa Valley will use its cable station, email blasts, newsletters, word-of-mouth and any other resources at its disposal to endorse the millage and ensure it is passed." Here is another link, from a school district, that makes it VERY clear: http://www.mcesa.k12.mi.us/Documents/ballotissues.pdf The typical approach is to make an effort to skirt the law. But this is such an arrogant and blatant disregard for the law that it will be interesting to see if any of the elected officials responsible for upholding the law in Macomb County will do their duty, or will instead back down and turn a blind eye. The millage question needs to stand on it's own merit, with citizens supporting it. Having a taxpayer funded entity use taxpayer resources to advocate for increased taxes becomes a slippery slop.
Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 12:07 PM
Here is the document from the Michigan government website: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/APPENDIX_I__157778_7.pdf "Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act provides that a public body or an individual acting for a public body shall not use or authorize the use of funds, personnel, office space, property, stationery, postage, vehicles, equipment, supplies, or other public resources to make a contribution or expenditure or provide volunteer personal services to further the nomination or election of a candidate or the qualification, passage or defeat of a ballot question. " And here are the "teeth": A person who knowingly violates this section of the Act is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable, if the person is an individual, by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both, or if the person is not an individual, by one of the following, whichever is greater: (a) A fine of not more than $20,000.00. (b) A fine equal to the amount of the improper contribution or expenditure." Again, will the elected officials responsible for enforcing this turn a blind eye?
Jenny Whalen (Editor) October 06, 2011 at 12:49 PM
You raise a VERY interesting point - but I think the argument would stall when it comes down to what the newsletters, email blasts, etc. say. None of these documents tell residents "how" to vote–they don't say "Vote yes on Nov.8." They offer information on what the ballot proposal would mean numbers-wise to Chippewa and other districts and give stats on special education needs in the county. The district never used the term "campaign" to describe its efforts–that was my attempt to create a succinct headline–I apologize if it is misleading.
Joe S October 06, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Get rid of schools of choice and you have my vote! I don’t want my tax dollars paying for children from other school districts that attend schools in CVS.
Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Yes, schools have some very fine taxpayer-funded lawyers, and try to be very careful as the dance on the line. But in the first paragraph they say, "We support this proposal", and they go on to say, "On November 8, we will ask them for their continued support." There are additional examples as well. The absence of "Vote Yes" does not really matter. The 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case of "Buckley v Valeo" addresses issue advocacy. They list "express words of advocacy", but the Michigan Secretary State is very clear that they do not simply do a wordsearch for Buckley's "magic words", such as "vote for", "defeat", etc. (And interestingly, one of the "magic words" -- support -- is included in the Chippewa piece). Anyway, the bigger ethical question is whether we want our public schools honoring the intent of the law, or instead dancing on it and flirting with illegality.
Jenny Whalen (Editor) October 06, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Mike, this all seems to stem from funding (doesn't it always). I've heard a lot of arguments saying that the government itself is flirting with illegality when it comes to lumping education funding for higher education with that of primary schools. What's your take?
Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 01:41 PM
Hi Jenny. First of all, I don't agree with the premise that this all stems from funding, and argue instead that it largely stems from spending. For example, in the flyer distributed by Chippewa, they say, "we have reduced our general fund budget by $19 million over two years". Well, their budget documents on the district website show they were spending $133.9 million two years ago, and have approved $133.7 for this year. So, perhaps they are using Everyday Math to calculate the cuts, but for those of us who use "old school" math, that doesn't add up to $19 million. :-) That $19 million figure is probably the difference between what they WANTED to spend, and what they actually spent. What that means is that they wanted to increase spending by 15%, but were prevented from doing so. Can we agree that a 15% increase in spending over 2 years is a bit excessive?
Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 01:42 PM
To your other point... the argument that the state “raided” the school aid fund to give money to higher education has no merit. The state constitution specifically allows the School Aid Fund to pay for K-12 and Higher Education. When hearing that, the rebuttals from “Public Education, Inc.” then attempt to suggest that this transfer violates the promises of Prop A. That is not true either. Prop A promised to cap property taxes, add a sales tax, and prove the ADDITIONAL REVENUE to K-12. That was done... and then some.
Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Here is the link to the relevant constitution: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(ydvbmvyfg4v5wbb2vod1gm45))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-Article-IX-11 There shall be established a state school aid fund which shall be used exclusively for aid to school districts, higher education, and school employees' retirement systems, as provided by law. Sixty percent of all taxes imposed at a rate of 4% on retailers on taxable sales at retail of tangible personal property, 100% of the proceeds of the sales and use taxes imposed at the additional rate of 2% provided for in section 8 of this article, and other tax revenues provided by law, shall be dedicated to this fund. Payments from this fund shall be made in full on a scheduled basis, as provided by law. Beginning in the 1995-96 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year after 1995-96, the state shall guarantee that the total state and local per pupil revenue for school operating purposes for each local school district shall not be less than the 1994-95 total state and local per pupil revenue for school operating purposes for that local school district, as adjusted for consolidations, annexations, or other boundary changes. However, this guarantee does not apply in a year in which the local school district levies a millage rate for school district operating purposes less than it levied in 1994.
Mike Reno October 06, 2011 at 02:02 PM
And here is the wording of the Prop A Ballot Proposal. Note Item 2. WORDING OF BALLOT PROPOSAL A proposal to increase the state sales and use tax rates from 4% to 6%, limit annual increases in property tax assessments, exempt school operating millages from uniform taxation requirement and require 3/4 vote of Legislature to exceed statutorily established school operating millage rates. The proposed constitutional amendment would: 1. Limit annual assessment increase for each property parcel to 5% or inflation rate, whichever is less. When property is sold or transferred, adjust assessment to current value. 2. Increase the sales/use tax. Dedicate additional revenue to schools. 3. Exempt school operating millages from uniform taxation requirement. 4. Require 3/4 vote of Legislature to exceed school operating millage rates. 5. Activate laws raising additional school revenues through taxation including partial restoration of property tax. 6. Nullify alternative laws raising school revenues through taxation, including an increase income tax, personal exemption increase, and partial restoration of property taxes. Should this proposal be adopted? Yes___ No___
Jenny Whalen (Editor) October 06, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Well, I did ask for it didn't I? :) Thanks Mike. I really appreciate that you add links to support your opinions, it helps others follow the thread. too.
Kathleen McCartney October 13, 2011 at 03:23 PM
None of you apparently have a special needs child; I do. And I have watched how my son's school has had to make cuts in the last two years in regards to the amount of time with PTs, OTs, Social workers, special programs, teachers are made to take days off because they can't give them raises, so there are people with less education and skills leading the classroom, less money for supplies and field trips, less money for technology. This year, the school has had to mandatory close down one Friday a month. So yes, I have first-hand seen it become worse, you can look at your data all day, but it doesn't make a direct impact on you and your family. We are going to have to pay for the programs somehow that our children need, and forgive me if I'm wrong, families with special needs families are working as hard as they can and taking care of their children whose needs are great. Take a moment and look at it all from a different perspective!
Mike Reno October 13, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Kathleen... no doubt that schools are cutting important programs. And the points that some of us make are not intended in any way whatsoever to take away from the needs of any child, whether they have special needs, are gifted, or whatever. The comments are instead meant to point out that it is your local school board who is making the decisions to cut the programs you mention, not the state legislature, and not the voters of Macomb County. It is all about choice, and there are other programs, extra-curricular activities, salaries, and benefits that they choose to offer and support, rather than the valuable programs you mentioned. Have you asked them why they place a higher priority on athletics, for example, than your special needs programs?
Jeremy Nielson October 13, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Kathleen - . I actually understand where you're coming from. My son is involved in the special ed program in Rochester. And like schools in Macomb County, we've seen cuts to para professionals (half the support as there was even 6 years ago). Cuts in supplies, cuts in money available for field trips and the niceties and necessities. . I'm also running for the school board in Rochester. . I'm running because I'm concerned about how our schools are spending their money, not the "funding". Rochester, like many districts in Macomb County, are spending more than ever before. We're told that there isn't enough money for programs that help our kids, but the district is spending more money than they did last year... and the year before. And the year before that one. . We're very generous with our dollars when there is a demonstrated need. But there was a recent Rasmussen poll that showed that 72% of our neighbors believe that schools do not spend their money wisely. With good reason. How can we be spending more money than ever before - while parents are told that they've had to cut programs and we need more money to go to the classrooms? . These are troubling issues. Like you, I want to ensure our schools are as good - or better - when my son graduates 10+ years from now. I want to give generously to support his education! But we're not going to be able to do that unless our schools begin spending their money wisely. . Jeremy Nielson
Mike Reno October 14, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Sorry Jon... but the Wings parents were very happy with my involvement, especially when the district wanted to relocate their room to a storeroom closet. And there are plenty of special needs parents that can vouch for my involvement. Many were unhappy with the way IEP's were conducted, and I was a staunch advocate for them. You are simply making stuff up because I have opposed your efforts to support union causes. If you like the millage... support it... but stop attacking people. It's simply rude.

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