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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2005

Voters reject most levies in southeast Michigan

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

MONROE - Voters in three out of four southeast Michigan school districts rejected levies yesterday in Monroe and Lenawee counties, while also electing new board of education members in districts across the area, including an 18-year-old graduating senior in the Jefferson School District.

Jefferson voters overwhelmingly rejected a 8.31-mill, five-year operating issue that sought to raise $2.2 million a year for the financially struggling district.

"Voters have told us what they want to do over the next five years - eliminate more programs for our students," said Superintendent Tim Fitzpatrick.

The size of the defeat - 62 percent of about 3,400 voters opposed it - stunned long-time board member Richard McDevitt, who said the board worked hard to pass the levy. "I was beyond surprised; I was flabbergasted," he said.

Meanwhile, Tony Carroll, a Jefferson High School senior, defeated Zeb Probst, a former school bus driver, to win the board seat about to be vacated by Mr. McDevitt. Mr. Carroll has been serving as a nonvoting student representative on the board.

"I think it's a very positive step having a student actively involved on the board," Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

Meanwhile, voters in the Airport Community Schools district rejected a request for a 1.75-mill, six-year sinking fund that would have raised $5.6 million for school renovations and construction. The unofficial results were unavailable at press time.

In Lenawee County, voters in the Addison School District rejected by a two-to-one margin a 30-year, $27.75 million bond issue to renovate its facilities and improve technologies.

The bond issue would have levied 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.

Addison Board President Tim Shaw attributed the rejection to bad timing.

"The way the economy is, and the gas prices are, to ask people for even an extra dollar - it's just bad times right now," Mr. Shaw said. "It was just a heck of a lot of money. But nothing's been done [to the schools] for 20 years, and we have to play catch-up."

Voters were more generous in the Madison School District, approving a three-year, 1-mill sinking fund that will generate about $151,000 a year to help the district buy real estate and fix its facilities while easing the burden on the general fund.

Municipal clerks across the area reported record or near-record vote tallies for a school election yesterday, the first school voting to take place under a new election consolidation law that was passed in 2003 and went into effect this year.

Many clerks reported large numbers of absentee ballots, such as in Monroe, where 1,700 of the 2,400 votes cast were absentee, Monroe City Clerk Charlie Evans said.

Voters in Michigan also chose new school board members yesterday, including in five districts in Monroe County that had contested races.

In the Airport Community School District, voters approved 39-year-old incumbent James Geiermann's bid for another four year term. Joining him on the board will be Allen Burger, 43, of South Rockwood who was elected over Patricia Malvitz, 46, of Carleton and John Griffith, 55, of Carleton.

Voters in the Dundee Community School District chose incumbent Patricia Dempsey, 46, and Dick Boldt, 50, to fill the two open board seats over Penny Guitierrez, 50 and Ken Papenhagen, 36.

Voters in the Ida Public School District had three candidates to choose from to fill the seat being vacated by longtime board member Jeff Weeman. To fill the seat, they chose Jody Hoffman, 46, of Monroe by a large margin over Dale Heil, 38, of LaSalle and Jody Hoffman, 46, of Monroe.

Voters in the Monroe Public School District faced a choice of three candidates to replace outgoing board President Wendy Barth.

Monroe's school board has come under intense scrutiny of late as the district - like most others across Michigan - has struggled with shrinking state revenues and increasing expenses.

Board members have been criticized in recent months for traveling to conferences and other functions even as the district faces large cuts.

Voters in the district selected Aaron Mason, 34, of Monroe, to fill the seat for the next four years over Brian Sexton, 35, and Charles Randall Watkins, 53.

Five local districts had uncontested races.

Reggie Monday, 58, of Lambertville will replace John Mohr on the board of the Bedford Public School District, while Norris Klump, 52, of Blissfield will return for another term on the board at Blissfield Community Schools.

Incumbents Bill Saul, 61, of LaSalle and Pamela Cousino, 39, of Erie will return to the board of the Mason Consolidated School District, while incumbent Clinton Ford, Jr., 73, and newcomer Bruce Kitchen 40, both of Petersburg, won uncontested seats on the board at Summerfield Schools. Whiteford Agricultural School District incumbent Dan Martin, 44, of Ottawa Lake also was reelected yesterday.

Contact George J. Tanber at

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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