PETERSBURG - There's been a kind of quiet sales job going on for the last several months across the Summerfield School District.
It's not candy bars on offer, or even magazine subscriptions, but a set of financial facts: Michigan's ongoing crisis in funding education finally means that Summerfield can no longer afford to keep its house in order without help from the ballot box.
And if local voters buy into the program on Nov. 8 and approve a $5.3 million bond request, one of Monroe County's most fiscally conservative schools over the last several decades will be able to fund a series of much-needed but unexciting improvements to its two buildings.
"There's nothing particularly glamorous here, but these are things that need to be fixed," Summerfield Superintendent Jack Hewitt said as he rattled off a list of proposed improvements on things like plumbing, heating, energy efficiency, electrical upgrades, bathroom renovations, and roofs.
If the bond issue is approved Nov. 8, taxpayers would pay an estimated 2.5 mills additionally on their property taxes next year.
However, over the 26-year payback period, the average tax rate is expected to be about 1.99 mills, district Business Manager Debbie Beagle said.
One mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 of state equalized valuation in Michigan.
For the owner of a home in the district with a market value of $200,000 and a taxable value of $100,000, the bond issue request would add an extra $250 to taxes next year but could be less for those who have owned their homes for longer periods of time.
Mr. Hewitt said Summerfield, like a frugal homeowner, has maintained a tradition of paying for capital improvement projects from its general operating funds, sometimes saving up for big projects or doing them in phases over time.
But a three-year freeze in state foundation aid grant levels pretty much brought that tradition to a halt as money had to be used to cover growing operating expenses, Mr. Hewitt said.
Another new factor is the municipal water from Monroe that now courses through the district's two buildings. The water lines arrived two years ago, freeing Petersburg and the schools of the sulfur water that had previously marked wells in the area.
"We now have good water for the first time, so we feel this is an opportune time to upgrade all of our [hot water] heating. We used to pay a flat rate for our water, but now it's metered, so anything that drips or leaks costs us money," the superintendent said.
Jefferson, Ida, and Summerfield are the only schools in the county that currently have no long-term debt.
Summerfield has the smallest taxable value of any district in the county at roughly $122 million, about half the size of Ida's and one-third the size of Dundee's taxable value. That means district officials have to seek a larger levy from taxpayers to generate the same amount of funds needed to make their repairs.
If the bond request is approved, it will put Summerfield's debt tax rate below only neighboring Whiteford, which levies 2.85 mills, while taxpayers in Monroe Public paid 1 mill; Airport, 1.2 mills; Dundee, 1.7 mills; Mason Consolidated, 2.0 mills, and Bedford 2.16 mills last year on their respective long-term debts.