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Could West Bloomfield Schools Millage Proposal Return to Another Ballot?

Tuesday's 'no' vote puts district in a 'less proactive position' to make improvements to buildings, said Superintendent Gerald Hill.

Edited: 1:55 p.m., Dec. 17 to remove information regarding building and site sinking fund

The West Bloomfield School District administration could be faced with difficult decisions regarding the value of making improvements to buildings versus continuing general fund expenditures at an acceptable rate in coming years, according to Superintendent Gerald Hill.

Hill said that the failure of the West Bloomfield Schools' building and site sinking fund millage proposal at the polls Tuesday could be a result of voters having never seen the measure discussed in the media or at community events. The 1.5-mill levy proposal ($1.50 per $1,000 of taxable valuation) would have reportedly generated an estimated $2.4 million annually for the district to use primarily on upgrades or repairs.

"It puts us in a less-proactive position where we don't have the resources ... for sinking fund projects," said Hill, currently in his first year on the job. "We want to continue to fund the highest quality of education."

The measure failed with 7,763 "no" votes, or 52.78 percent of the vote. A total of 6,944 "yes" votes accounted for 47.22 percent.

"When you look at the results precinct by precinct, we can see precincts where there are greater (school district) parent populations and more informed parent populations and the results are favorable," Hill said. "We need to do a better job of reaching out to the general population and explaining what high quality schools do for the community at large."

A closer look at results indicates a strong showing of opposition in Orchard Lake (65.95 percent), Keego Harbor (56.56 percent), West Bloomfield precinct five (59.18 percent), and West Bloomfield precinct four (59.71 percent).

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"I think there could be a lot of projects that would be deferred, delayed, with the potential of those projects becoming more expensive as they become more urgent," Hill added.

At the Board of Education meeting May 25, Assistant Superintendent Thomas Goulding said that funds received through the millage levy would eliminate the aspect of borrowing, which follows bond issues. Bond dollars cannot be used to make repairs, Goulding said; however, they can be used for full-blown replacements.

Hill said the board could be asked at an upcoming meeting to consider a future ballot proposal. On May 25, Trustee David Einstandig said that if the proposal failed as it did, another could be placed before voters.

Trustee Matt Chase was the lone "no" vote in May to put the proposal before voters. He questioned the will of the community to vote for the millage given past purchases of bonds, including the 2009 bond proposal, which passed by a 2-to-1 margin in the May election.

"I just see that as a tough sell to say, 'You already have bond dollars, why do you need more?'" Chase said.

In September, the board voted to close Ealy Elementary School at the end of the school year, as well as to consider the future closures of the Administrative and Community Services building and Roosevelt Elementary School. 

Follow the conversation about this issue on Facebook at facebook.com/WBloomfldPatch.

ConcernedWBTaxpayer November 11, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Right now, WB school district residents are paying close to top dollar for schools that, while still very good, have an unquestionably declining reputation. And though overall WB taxes aren't yet at the level of, say, Birmingham or Grosse Pointe, few would argue that our services and reputation are as strong, either. As another example, Orchard Lake Village has slightly lower taxes than WB, but they're in the process of repaving most of their residential streets via normal tax collections. In WB, the only way to get that done is to voluntarily tax your neighborhood thousands of dollars per house via Special Assessment District. In addition, if taxes rise too much, WB risks a competitiveness problem that could further undermine property values. Within WB Twp, houses in the WB school district are already disadvantaged vis-a-vis those in the Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, and Walled Lake districts, where they pay the same or lower taxes for equal or better performing schools. Relative to other communities with which WB competes for new residents, we're generally paying more, and it's not obvious that taxpayers are getting very much in return.
ConcernedWBTaxpayer November 11, 2012 at 08:58 PM
As a quick case study, let's compare WB to four communities where a prospective metro Detroit homebuyer can find similar quality of life, housing values, and schools. In 2011, a $300,000 WB house in WB schools ($150,000 taxable value--about the median) would pay $6203 in WB property taxes, as compared to $4539 in Commerce, $5844 in Novi ($4856 if in Northville schools), $4865 in Rochester Hills, and $5552 in Troy. On average, that's over $1000/year (16%) higher, without a WB sinking fund in place. And if our potential homebuyer's budget is a bit higher, she can choose to upgrade to Bloomfield Township, Birmingham, or Northville, where taxes are about the same as WB (10% higher in Birmingham) and housing, schools, and services are generally superior. If you repeat this calculation for the all the (3 dozen+) municipality-school district combinations with which we realistically compete, you'll find WB houses with WB schools near the top of the tax burden rankings, with only a small handful of places--mostly for explainable quality reasons--appreciably higher.
ConcernedWBTaxpayer November 11, 2012 at 08:59 PM
If WB continues to grow the cost disparity with competitor communities by increasing the tax burden without commensurate improvements in schools and services, we will further incentivize homebuyers to choose those communities instead. That risks starting the downward spiral experienced by a number of the inner ring suburbs: fewer (and less affluent) residents, lower property values, reduced tax base, and increasingly higher rates to make up the difference. Over a decade or two, this sequence can have a major impact on quality of life and home prices in the community. I don't think we're there yet, and WB still has a lot to offer current and prospective residents (including lakes, libraries, parks, cultural centers, a central location, and quality--though slightly aging--housing stock), but we have every right to demand our elected officials take the necessary steps to keep us from moving further in that direction. If they do, they'll likely get the community support they need.
Judy Herman November 15, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I don't know who "concerned WB taxpayer" is but you may want to come to the school board meeting on Monday and raise these concerns. There was a pretty strong hint at the end of today's PCN meeting that the issue of putting another version of the sinking fund millage before the voters will be discussed. Because the Board practice is typically to decide these issues before meetings and just goes through the motions of public discussion at the public meetings, please share the millage comparisons with board members ASAP. Here's a link to their contact information: http://www.westbloomfield.k12.mi.us/wbsd/District/Board-of-Education/Board-Members-140.html
Timothy Rath November 16, 2012 at 12:25 AM
All: Thanks for the comments. Terrific thread.

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