Kent County voters to decide millage for 20 schools May 2

24 Hour News 8 web staff -

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- Voters across Kent County will see a different type of school millage request when they head to the polls May 2.

The Kent County Intermediate School District is requesting an Operational Enhancement Millage, which will benefit all 20 school districts in the county. It is the first time the ISD has made such a request.

Unlike a bond proposal, which can only be used for resources like buildings, technology and buses, an Operational Enhancement Millage can go directly to the district's operating budget. That means it can be used for everything, from staffing to adding or enhancing program offerings.

"It will help fund our basic programs for kids, to help provide the things that make a school work," explained Dan Behm, superintendent of Forest Hills Public Schools.

"Sometimes people go by and they say, 'Well the school looks nice,' but that doesn't tell the story that we might be having a difficult time funding teachers, buying basic school supplies that are needed when budgets get tight," added Behm. "This won't resolve every fiscal challenge that public schools have, but this certainly helps."

According to the Kent ISD, if the 0.9 mill proposal is passed, a home with a market value of $150,000 would pay an additional $67.50 per year in property taxes.

If passed, each school district would get an additional $211 per student in funding. That comes out to $284,014 for Kent City, which has the smallest school population, and goes up to $3.5 million for Grand Rapids Public Schools, which has the most students.

If the proposal passes, Kent County school districts are projected to receive the following in the first year:

Each district will choose how to use the money based on its needs.

"What we've done as a school district, what all the local school districts in the county have done, is listen to its (sic) local business officials, listen to its (sic) parents, and identified what are the needs that they have of us as local school districts, to prepare students for when they graduate from high school," explained Kenowa Hills Superintendent Gerald Hopkins.

If the millage is approved, Hopkins says the estimated $688,162 his district would receive from it next year would go toward expanding some popular programs, like the district's STEM Academy which puts students inside an advanced manufacturing facility.

"An enhancement millage like this will help us… address that gap, those needs associated with expanding programs that our students want, that our students are engaged in, and that our local business officials and parents are asking for," said Hopkins.

Behm said the estimated $2.1 million Forest Hills Public Schools is in line to get during the proposed millage's first year would go toward attracting new staff and supporting existing staff and programs.

"We want to maintain great programs, and great programs are staffed by quality educators and paraprofessionals," said Behm.

Proposal A in 1994 changed the way schools were funded. However, it allowed county ISDs to request a regional enhancement millage of up to 3 mills to supplement the money districts receive from the state.

More than 20 years later, only about half a dozen ISDs have taken advantage of this option. The catch: more than half the districts in a given county have to request the ISD put the proposal on the ballot.

In Kent County, superintendents from the ISD's 20 school districts met and agreed to a proposed tax of 0.9 mills instead of the 3 mills maximum.

The request follows a decade where districts have had to make tough budget cuts; area superintendents say state funding has not kept up with inflation and rising education costs.

"In Kent County, we're sensitive to the tax burdens of voters. We're sensitive. Everyone's got to make ends meet. We have tried to reduce any and every expenditure we can, that we don't think is necessary for student learning, and we've been doing that for a decade or more. But we're down to a point now that any cut we make is going to have a direct negative impact on a child. And we think it's important to ask our community, do we want to continue in that direction or do we want to pass the hat with this modest proposal?" Behm said.

Kalamazoo County voters passed a 1.5 mill Regional Enhancement Millage in 2005. On May 2 they will be asked if they want to renew the measure for another three years.

Online:Kent ISD - Strong Schools, Strong Communities millage

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