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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

Michigan districts seek help from voters

BY GEORGE J. TANBER AND
LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Two Monroe County school districts are seeking voter support for what they say are crucial financing issues in the May 3 election, while a pair of Lenawee County districts are seeking help from taxpayers for their own capital needs.

In Monroe County, Airport Community Schools has a 1.75-mill, six-year sinking fund issue on the ballot that would raise $5.6 million for school renovations and construction while Jefferson Schools' officials are seeking an 8.31-mill, five-year operating issue that seeks to raise $2.2 million a year.

While state law, under Proposal A, only allows schools to seek bond issues for renovations and capital improvements, some districts - including Jefferson - are exempt from the ruling.

Airport schools officials hope to add classrooms and roofs, expand parking, and carry out other renovations, Superintendent Tom Kowalski said. The system has one high school, a middle school, and four elementary schools.

A similar measure lost by 130 votes last year. If passed, the issue will cost taxpayers $70 to $200 a year, depending on their property value.

Using its general fund money, Airport schools have added four classrooms and two science labs in two years. But Mr. Kowalski said things have changed.

Jefferson qualifies for the state exemption on operating levies because it is a so-called "out-of-formula" district.

The designation - thanks largely to the presence of the Fermi II Nuclear Power Plant within its taxing district - means that Jefferson has operated under a formula that, through a local bond issue, provided the system with more than $3,000 a year more than the state foundation grant subsidy for each of its students, said David Houle, director of business and finance. But in 2002 the district's 13-mill, five-year operating levy was not renewed, costing the district $3.2 million a year in operating funds.

Mr. Houle said the 8.31 mills the district seeks - which would costs owners of a $130,000 house $360 a year - would be enough for the district to continue at its present operating mode.

In Lenawee County, the Addison School District is asking voters to pass a 30-year, $27.75 million bond issue to renovate its facilities and improve the technologies inside.

If passed, the bond issue would levy 5.22 mills of property tax on district real estate. One mill of property tax is equal to $1 of tax per $1,000 of state equalized valuation. Over the bonds' life, the average annual millage required to repay their principal and interest will be 3.74 mills.

Bond issues such as the one Addison seeks are the main way that Michigan school districts pay for large capital improvement projects under Proposal A, the sweeping educational funding reform passed in 1994.

Meanwhile, voters in the Madison School District will be asked to approve their own three-year, one-mill sinking fund that would generate $151,000 a year to help the district buy real estate and fix its facilities.

In addition to the money issues facing voters in the four districts, voters will choose new school board members in school districts across the state.

The May 3 election date is the first under an election consolidation bill signed into law in 2003 which moved the annual school election from June to May and moved responsibility for the ballot count from schools to local government clerks.

Financial issues are likely to dominate the next four years for those who win election to the 23 open seats on local school boards, with 14 contested races in five districts:

w●Airport Community School District incumbent board secretary James Geiermann, 39, of Monroe Street, Carleton, is seeking re-election to one of two open seats. Also running are Allen Burger, 43, of Armstrong Street, South Rockwood; Patricia Malvitz, 46, of Grafton Road, Carleton, and John Griffith, 55, of Burns Road, Carleton.

Incumbent Elaine Hollister is stepping down.

●Dundee Community School District voters will choose from among four candidates to fill two open seats.

Incumbent board treasurer Patricia Dempsey, 46, of Penfield Street, will face off against fellow Dundee residents Penny Louise Guitierrez, 50, of McBride Street; Dick Boldt, 50, of Van Nest Street, and Ken Papenhagen, 36, of South Custer Road. Incumbent Vince Goff did not seek re-election.

●Ida Public School District voters have a choice among three candidates to fill the board seat being vacated by Jeff Weemant.

Dale Heil, 38, of Strasburg Road, LaSalle, will compete against Jody Hoffman, 46, of West Dunbar Road, Monroe, and Jeff Hoffman, 42, of Lewis Avenue, Ida. Jeff and Jody Hoffman are unrelated.

●Jefferson School District has quieted since a tumultuous recall election in 2003, although the district, like those elsewhere in the state, continues to struggle financially.

Voters will choose between 18-year-old Anthony Carroll II of Oakwood Avenue, Monroe, and Zebbie Probst, 49, of South Street, Newport, to fill the seat current board President Richard McDevittis is vacating.

●Monroe Public Schools, Monroe County's largest school district, seems to have inherited Jefferson's mantle for contentious board meetings of late as members have struggled to deal with more than $3 million in cuts that will be felt districtwide.

Three Monroe residents, Brian Sexton, 35, of East Eighth Street; Aaron Mason, 34, of Oak Knoll Drive, and Charles Randall Watkins, 53, of Windsor Court, will vie to succeed outgoing board chief Wendy Barth.

Five local districts have uncontested races:

●Bedford Public School District has Reggie Monday, 58, of Wiltshire Drive, Lambertville, as the only candidate seeking the seat being vacated by John Mohr.

●Blissfield Community School District voters will be asked to return incumbent Norris Klump, 52, of Ridgeville Road, Blissfield, for another four-year term.

●Mason Consolidated School District voters will also be asked to return two incumbents, Bill Saul, 61, of East Stein Road, LaSalle and Pamela Cousino, 39, of Wilson Drive, Erie, to the school board.

●Summerfield School District incumbent Clinton H. Ford, Jr., 73, of Forest Avenue, is being joined on the ballot by fellow Petersburg resident Bruce Kitchen, 40, of Saline Street, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Michael Goodin.

●Whiteford Agricultural School District incumbent Dan Martin, 44, of Consear Road, Ottawa Lake, is unopposed for the board's sole open seat.



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