With so much media coverage of this year’s presidential race, it can be easy to forget there are other important issues on the November 8th ballot. Wayne County voters will decide the fate of a millage proposal that would raise more money for public schools.
On a crisp Thursday night a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of people cheer on Livonia Franklin High School’s JV football team. A short walk away in the school’s auditorium a much smaller group gathers to discuss school funding.
They’re talking about the Wayne RESA millage proposal on the November ballot. Wayne RESA is the service agency that supports and oversees all public schools in Wayne County.
The ballot measure calls for property owners in Wayne County to pay an additional two mills for schools. If passed, the millage would put $80 million directly into county schools. That works out to about $385 per student.
A similar proposal appeared on the ballot in August 2014. Wayne County RESA superintendent Dr. Randy Liepa said he thinks a lack of voter participation doomed that millage request. “2,500 votes, and so it was very close but it was a low turn-out election,” Liepa said. “We didn’t have the opportunity that we have now to really do a good job of getting the word out.”
This time around, Liepa said Wayne RESA’s focus is on voter education, letting people know what an education enhancement millage is. Because of the way schools are funded in Michigan, an enhancement millage is the only way they can generate additional revenue from local taxpayers.
If the voters pass the millage on November 8th, all Wayne County public school districts get the money. If it doesn’t pass, no school systems get additional revenue. As for how the money would be spent, “That’s going to be determined on a district by district basis…” Liz Jarvis is a member of the Livonia School Board. She said if the millage passes, schools could use the money for facility updates, for teacher recruitment and retention, or program funding.
“So how that money is spent, where it’s put is not going to look the same in Livonia as it will in Northville, or Westland, or Detroit, or Ecorse or any other district,” Jarvis said.
As far as where the money would not go, Liepa said none would fund charter schools and no money would go to the old Detroit Public Schools.
“No, this all goes to the new DPS and they’re very excited about the opportunity to enhance their programs and retain and attract teachers, a big deal in Detroit.”
Liepa said the proposal has no organized opposition this year. He said voters who rejected the 2014 measure were concerned that passing a millage would encourage state lawmakers to postpone an overhaul of school funding.
Plymouth-Canton Teacher Janet Sutherland says the millage is a way to restore programs that have been eliminated over the years.
“In 30 years, the cuts are always small every year, but they’re a cut on a cut on a cut and this funding will help restore some of the things that we have lost.”
Parent Jeff Kramer said he’s voting for the Wayne RESA ballot measure, but he’s concerned that county millages will take the pressure off the state to reform school funding.
“We have to make sure that we’re educating our kids and the state seems to be dropping the ball in making sure that they’re funded fully,” Kramer said. “I want to make sure that they know that that’s their job to do and that they take it seriously and they don’t pass the ball off to the counties or to the intermediate districts.”
Kramer said he’s also concerned that the high-profile presidential race will keep people from learning about local issues like the millage.
“I haven’t heard that much about it, I mean the presidential election just seems to be taking over everything. We’re hearing about conversations on buses, but this is the type of thing that affects everybody.”
The Wayne RESA educational enhancement millage will appear on ballots in Wayne County on November 8th.