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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2005

Bedford may place sinking fund on ballot

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Bedford Public School officials are now openly discussing plans to place a "sinking fund" on the ballot next year as a way to help the financially struggling district deal with its budget deficit as well as some long-neglected capital needs.

The exact proposal and when it would appear on the ballot are still a matter of internal debate within the district's administration and its school board.

Sinking funds are a creature of Michigan's 1994 Proposal A ballot initiative that changed the way school districts across the state receive their funding. Under that law, schools receive their operating funds on a "per student" formula from the state and are largely prohibited from asking voters for local operating millages, as voters in Ohio face.

However, Proposal A allowed school districts to ask voters for sinking funds to help finance the costs of maintaining their buildings and other capital equipment, and as a way to ease the burden on their general funds. In Monroe County, Mason Consolidated and Monroe Public Schools both have sinking funds.

During the board of education's regular meeting last week, assistant superintendent for finance Ted Magrum mentioned creation of a sinking fund. It was the first such "official" mention of the topic that has been discussed almost monthly during the board's regular committee-of-the-whole meetings.

Board President Dave Taylor said he and his colleagues have done some preliminary work on a sinking fund proposal, including an inventory discussing the district's outstanding capital needs.

But Mr. Taylor said board members aren't ready to talk publicly yet about what may appear before voters next year.

"We have to prioritize the projects to determine what we have to do and what we can live without and not live without," Mr. Taylor said.

"There's always a gamble with a millage with, what are the taxpayers willing to tolerate?"

The idea of proposing a sinking fund has floated around the district's Sterns Road administrative office for at least a couple years as Bedford struggled to contain budget deficits in the face of frozen state foundation aid.

"We're looking at the options. That's the best way to put it," said board vice president Shawna Smith.

Bedford Superintendent Jon White said a sinking fund would be attractive to the district, which is facing an expected $3 million deficit next year and looking at layoffs and other attrition measures.

Still, he said, a decision on whether to seek a sinking fund will have to wait.

"We're not looking at putting a sinking fund on the ballot until next November. Right now, we're beginning to concentrate on [renewing] the technology millage," in May 2006, Mr. White said.

"With the new election laws, timing becomes all the more critical, and we don't want two proposals on the ballot at the same time."



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