By Andrew Cluley
With less than two week to go before Election Day, members of the Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee are pushing to bring as many voters to the polls on May 5 as possible. The $33 million bond proposal has no organized opposition, but supporters still have concerns.
The first challenge comes from what else is on the ballot. Proposal One would provide funds for road repairs across the state and also includes money for education, but it’s unclear if any of the funds will trickle down to Ann Arbor schools.
Members of the Citizens Millage Committee such as School Board Trustee Donna Lasinski stress that a yes vote on the AAPS bond question means money going directly to schools. She hopes this opportunity isn’t lost because of the statewide issue.
“We’re very concerned that it will turn out a population of voters strictly coming to the polls to vote their view on the road proposal and we want to make sure our parents and community supporters know there is a second piece on the ballot,” she says. “That voting yes on the second piece is critical and we need them to go to the polls and vote yes on the bond proposal.”
Beyond the basic need of getting enough voters out to the polls, the Citizens Millage Committee is working to explain why the funds are needed. The bond plan provides money for enhanced security at school entrances, new classroom furniture, musical instruments, and buses. While none of these purchases directly benefit the district’s operating budget, Citizens Millage Committee Member Jack Panitch says a yes vote puts the general fund in a better position than a no vote. “If the proposal doesn’t pass the needs are still there, and we’ve got to fund those needs and we have to take the money from the general fund to do that, thus hurting teachers, hurting classrooms,” Panitch says.
A third challenge for the Millage Committee is helping voters understand where this proposal fits in with the existing technology bond and the sinking fund millage. The sinking fund millage in particular may appear similar to this bond proposal but actually is designed for a different purpose. Lasinski says the sinking fund millage can only be used for permanent facility upgrades such as roofs or plumbing, “What this bond proposal allows us to do is pay for things that aren’t covered by the sinking fund, so our musical instruments, our playgrounds, our classroom furniture and our buses.” There is some overlap on funding security upgrades at school entrances, but the bond proposal would let the district complete the improvements in two years instead of ten.
While the 2015 Bond Proposal faces some challenges, Millage Committee members say it has some attractive features as well. Committee member Simone McDaniel says it’s a chance to provide funds for Ann Arbor Public Schools without relying on state officials. She also highlights that the plan maintains the existing tax rate. “It’s a fabulous and unique way for us as a community to raise money locally for our schools under the brilliant condition of not raising our tax rate,” McDaniel says.
The plan keeps the tax levy at, or below 2.45 mills. This is well below the bonded debt millage rate in districts across the county, with a rate of seven mills the next closest. The rate would drop a bit if voters reject the bond proposal, but only by about 15 cents per week for owners of a $200,000 home.
Voters interested in learning more about the 2015 Bond Proposal are invited to community meetings Thursday April, 23 at Clague Middle School and Thursday, April 30 at Forsythe Middle School.