By Andrew Cluley
The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education wants to let voters decide if they support an increase of the countywide tax for special education funding. The board unanimously passed a resolution in favor of putting a ten year 1.5 mill increase to the special education millage on the May ballot.
The current special education millage only provides Ann Arbor Public Schools and other districts in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District about a 55 to 60 percent reimbursement for special education costs not covered by federal or state funds. The 1.5 mill increase would generate about $22 million across the county and push the reimbursement rate over 90 percent.
School Board President Deb Mexicotte says AAPS last year spent about $34 million on special education. If the special education millage increase is approved the district would receive an additional $10-12 million.
Board members say they fully support special education programs, but are limited in the amount of local control they have over the costs due to federal and state mandates. Board Member Donna Lasinski says since the district is facing these costs no matter what, the special education millage helps all students. “When we can get them reimbursed through voter choice as opposed to having to dip out of our general fund and education budget for our entire student population, it benefits every student in our district,” she says.
“There are only a handful of mechanisms whereby local communities can decide to increase the investment in public education and this is one of those opportunities,” adds WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel. Under the millage all of the funds are spent on students from the same district where the taxes are collected.
Board Member Christine Stead says a recent survey shows support exists for the special education millage increase. She fears the funds will become more important as early indications are that state funding won’t keep up with what’s needed in classrooms.
For the millage to be placed on the May ballot the WISD will need to provide final ballot language to the county clerk by early February.