Say 'NO' to Proposed $243 Million Saginaw Township School Millage May 2nd

    icon Apr 06, 2023
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Saginaw Charter Township voters will be voting on a millage proposal by Saginaw Township Community Schools to fund a $243 million, all or nothing, spare no expense, quarter billion-dollar school upgrading plan. The real question is not whether some of our schools need infrastructure repairs and updating, but whether the exorbitant cost of this plan is the best plan or even the most affordable and necessary plan for the community.

This ballot proposal requests voter authorization to borrow $243 million through a bond. To pay back the loan, it seeks an initial 5.75 mil property tax assessment. Buried in the official ballot language, however, is the fact that, to pay back the debt with interest, it anticipates it will ultimately need a taxpayer assessment of 7.89 mils over the next 36 YEARS at a projected taxpayer cost of $315 million!

On their website, the School District has links to two 22-page documents, one describing the improvement plans, the other the detailed line-item cost for the improvements, for each of the 8 facilities in the Township. 

Some of the planned improvements, such as installing HVAC systems and fixing roofs, are critical fixes needed now.   Doing something about the dated learning environment and security issues (the “pods”) at Heritage High School merit discussion. 

But the proposal also includes things such as: $1.5 million for new parking lots and drives, $1.25 million to construct new baseball and softball fields, $1 million for Astroturf for the football field, $600k to replace the press box, and the list goes on. 

More troubling is the fact that the proposal doesn’t seem to include a provision for funds to maintain those improvements.  Roofs, HVAC systems, and parking lots, for example, typically only last 10 – 15 years.  That raises the question of whether there will be an additional millage request before we’ve finished paying off this one!

So, what will this plan cost Township residents? 

According to the Township Assessor, the median market value of a home in Saginaw Township is $160,000, with a taxable value of $80,000.  So, the nominal cost to the typical taxpayer for the $243 million bond is $460 annually. But once you add the interest, the actual cost will be more than $630 per year

For the next 36 years! 

And let’s not forget that residents already pay 6 mils in State Education Tax to support school operations and 3.9 mils for a prior bond’s debt service and a capital improvement Sinking Fund.  Let’s also not forget that the actual cost will also be increasing every year as taxable values increase as a result of rising home values in the Township.

Can voters in an inflationary economy afford it?

Saginaw is already one of the more highly taxed counties in the country:

  • We rank in the top 21% of all counties for property taxes as a percent of median home value
  • We rank in the top 16% of all counties for property taxes as a percent of median income.
  • We rank 24% below the national median income. 

Another argument that comes up in support of the proposal is that surrounding school districts have been upgrading their facilities and we risk falling behind in attracting new residents and even retaining our student base.

It is true that student enrollment in Township K-12 schools has been declining for at least the last 15 years, down to 4,346 for the 22-23 school year, 7.1% in the past 10 years. And there is little indication this trend will slow or reverse in the foreseeable future. The problem with this argument is that it is a zero-sum game: my gain is your loss, and vice versa.  If enrollment growth is unlikely, it seems worth asking if the roughly $2,000 additional investment per student per year for the next 36 years will result in significantly better learning outcomes? 

Further, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates, 29% of Township residents are 65 years old or older, many on fixed incomes. And 42% of our residents earn $50,000 or less per year!

Clearly this plan places a huge financial burden on a great many of our residents. Yes, some improvements to the schools are always needed, but is this all or nothing, spare no expense, quarter billion-dollar plan the right one at this time for Saginaw Township? Have we exhausted all other ways to make change happen?

If you’ve been keeping track, Governor Whitmer has made education one of her priorities.  Her budget proposal for 2023 includes $19 billion for schools.  She also bragged about the $1 billion plus contribution to schools made by the Lottery Fund for the 4th consecutive year. 

A little-known fact is that current law allows school districts to use up to 20% of the funds they receive through the state’s foundation allowance to finance capital projects.  Funding for our crumbling roads and leaded water pipe replacement has been readily made available, why nothing specifically for school infrastructure?

What about private funding?  The conversion from grass to Astroturf in Freeland was funded by corporate donors.  How about expanding the taxable property base? Shouldn’t the State Government reimburse localities and the School Aid Fund for State mandated property tax exemptions such as those for non-profit institutions and veterans?

It may take some time but convincing the Governor and the Legislature to fix our school funding system to incorporate infrastructure spending should be a priority.  With a $19 billion School Aid Fund budget, removing the 20% limitation on school capital spending should go a long way to help fix our crumbling and outdated schools.

Since this plan has been over three years in the making, it is not critical to execute it now.

Let’s hit the pause button on this initiative and explore all possible options so we can make changes without our most vulnerable neighbors and our struggling business owners having to absorb this financial burden.

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