Washtenaw County schools officials gear up for May 3 vote on special education millage renewal
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
He said the WISD, the ten public school districts in the county and charter schools throughout the county have done their part to provide information to the public and are looking forward to the vote.
“There’s such a climate out there with concerns with any sort of taxes and there are people who will vote against it because they’re against any sort of tax issue,'' he said. “It’s all about, do people go to the polls who are invested in their schools? And if they do, I think we’ll get their support.”
The WISD is asking voters to approve a .985-mill renewal of the special education millage that expired in December. The millage will run for seven years and will cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 about $98.50 per year.
Educators are emphasizing that the request is not a tax increase, but rather a continuation of a millage that county residents have been paying since 2004.
The vote on May 3 will determine whether school in Washtenaw County will receive approximately $14 million in reimbursements from the WISD for special education services. Ann Arbor Public Schools would receive the largest amount from the millage renewal — about $5.8 million — with the lowest amount going to the county’s nine public school academies, totaling about $190,000.
The millage renewal vote comes at a time when school districts are beginning to figure out what reductions they will have to make to balance their budgets for the next school year.
Many school districts have been presenting budget plans with the assumption that the millage renewal will pass. Last week, Ann Arbor schools interim Superintendent Robert Allen presented budget reductions to fill a $15.6 million deficit and Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden said in March that his district will be facing a $5.9 million deficit.
For a PDF with a breakdown of each school district’s reimbursement from the special education millage renewal, click here.
Brian Marcel, WISD assistant superintendent for business services, said many districts are coping with the loss in state funding they’re expecting this year after Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a new $300 per-pupil cut on top of a $170 per-pupil cut from last year that will not be restored. A $230 per-pupil increase in retirement costs is also expected.
“It’s almost too big of a problem to grasp at that point, that we’ll have to (cope with if the special education renewal is) not successful,” Marcel said. “They’re still coming to grasp with what they know is coming from the state level and then they’ll worry about this as a step two if this would happen.”
Allen said with the cuts that Ann Arbor schools are expecting from the state, the renewal of the special education millage has always been vital.
“We knew we were facing a $15 million deficit if the millage passes; if the millage doesn’t pass, we knew potentially it could be $6 million more,” Allen said. “We’ve always known how important this is, I don’t think that’s changed at all. I think just seeing some of the things we’ve proposed for the tough cuts we’ve had to make, there’s a realization it could be even tougher. That’s the new piece to this puzzle.”
Special education services are required by federal mandates and will continue regardless of whether the millage renewal passes.
Leyshock said the main concern of WISD officials is the impact on special education in the county if the millage renewal doesn’t pass.
“They do have the figures; they do know what the impact will be,” he said, referring to the county's public school districts. “What we’re concerned with is if it’s not there, it will reduce the overall services for the school and the environment special education students learn in.”
Washtenaw County school districts spent a total of $117.1 million on special education in the 2009-10 school year, according to WISD documents. About $10.3 million of that was covered by federal grants, $30 million was paid by the state and $58 million was reimbursed by the WISD.
For a PDF showing a breakdown on how much each district spent on special education in 2009-10, including the amount reimbursed by the WISD, click here.
Although the millage renewal funds are specifically designated for special education services, WISD spokesperson Gerri Allen said the decision made by voters on May 3 will impact all students.
She said about one in seven children in the county receive special education services — more than half receiving services for speech therapy or learning disabilities, which may not be obvious.
For a PDF showing a breakdown of students receiving special education services by district and disability, click here.
Allen said the WISD has been providing special education services for decades and the millage renewal would provide stable funding for the continuation of those services.
“Special education has been making a difference in children’s lives for 35 years and we look for that to continue,” she said. “In particular, special education helps many students become productive citizens so they can be contributors in their own communities so they don’t have to rely on tax-funded social services.”