Saugatuck Public Schools' Officials, Millage Supporters Cross Fingers For May 8th Vote Seeking $50.7 Million Approval From Local
Next week Tuesday, May 8 is a big day for Saugatuck Public Schools (SPS) as voters go to the polls to either vote up or vote down the districts’ two proposals: one to borrow money in the form of a bond, $50,700,000, and the other a sinking fund estimated to generate $300,058.
These funds, if approved, can not legally to be used for operational expenses such as teacher or administrator salaries, school supplies, textbooks or routine maintenance.
District officials want to upgrade some of the school district’s infrastructure, renovate some of the outdated building design structure and do a little new construction.
But is the local electorate willing to back them up?
Some—but certainly not all—taxpayers question why should district taxpayers contribute their dollars to kids that are not part of the district, as one-third of its approximately 850 student population is School of Choice kids (live outside the district).
SPS representatives counter that School of Choice kids gives the district an economy of scale advantage it otherwise wouldn’t have: the operational budget revenue (nothing to do with the proposals on May 8, as those are for building and renovation) increases with School of Choice students because of state funding, a funding per student situation that provides for such things as technology labs, transportation, extra curriculum activities, textbooks, etc.—stuff that benefits resident and School of Choice kids alike.
Some taxpayers say they are already paying too much in taxes as well as pointing out the district’s current debt is more than $14 million, and the additional debt would bring the total to more than $64 million as confirmed by Tom Lagone, financial consultant for SPS via the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.
SPS representatives counter that the district currently levies the lowest combined debt and sinking fund tax rate in the region, namely the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and neighboring districts. And even if both proposals are approved by voters, SPS would still remain in the lower third in the area.
Still, a look at the total educational taxes a taxpayer pays in the district may provide a different perspective on the potential financial impact for voters as well considering that over half of the homes in the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas are second homes, non-principal residence.
As derived from the 2017 Allegan County Equalization Department, which is the latest report available, principal residence properties are levied 16.3241 mills in total educational taxes (it includes state of Michigan educational taxes). This means that a home with a $300,000 market value (taxable value at $150,000)—which is below the median home value for properties in the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas—would pay $2,448 in taxes per year.
This, while non-principal residential properties are levied at 32.8709 mills, meaning $4,930 per year for a $300,000 home value.
SPS is asking for an increase of 1.17 mills in the bond issue and .5 mill for the sinking fund, thereby increasing, if the proposals are approved, the principal residence to over 17 mills and over $2,600 per year and non-principal residence to over 34 mills and over $5,100.
If proposals are approved, school officials plan on replacing roofing, updating heating and cooling systems, purchase buses, etc. Their ambitious designs call on creating social and physical spaces in line with contemporary, 21st-century ideas about educational architecture: better daylight and outside views, outdoor learning spaces, modifying hallways into collaborative learning spaces, and so on.
Funding would also create a new middle/high school band suite, a dedicated middle school art room, new science lab spaces, and spaces for new technology and robotics.
Asked about School of Choice students and the issues raised by some critics, SPS Superintendent Dr. Tim Travis told The Local Observer,
“The quality of a Saugatuck Public Schools’ education has attracted families from surrounding communities for well over a decade. Every school of choice student brings their foundation allowance with them, generating critical operating dollars that benefit all of our students and allow our schools to operate at maximum efficiency while continuing to provide excellent educational and co-curricular opportunities for both resident and school of choice students.”
One example of some of criticism over the proposals comes from parent Kara Burd, who made comments at the February 5 SPS Board public presentation of the proposals’ plans.
She remarked that despite all the talk about “collaborative spaces”— which she said she is more than acquainted with because she works with those very concepts in her professional job with Herman Miller—touted by the school board, school officials ought not to forget parents’ concern regarding the classroom size itself.
Burd contended that some classrooms are crowded; she would prefer her kids be taught in “a dark dungeon” than an overcrowded classroom.