Upcoming May election for school operating millages
Published April 29, 2023
Written by Madison
Photography by Simply American
On May 2, 2023, voters in Grand Haven, Hudsonville, West Ottawa, and Zeeland will be asked to approve school operating millages in their respective districts.
Many voters believe that good schools are what make an area a desirable place to live. Therefore, they commonly vote “yes” on all ballot proposals related to schools without weighing the cost-benefit ratio.
Unfortunately, this rubber-stamping approval by voters has led to school districts that have little incentive to scrutinize spending.
Understanding Bonds Vs Millage
Bonds and millages are different types of public financing that school districts request by election and are paid through property taxes. This article will focus on school millages. But before we get started, here are the main differences between bonds and millages.
Bonds most often are used for construction and renovation. Bonds can be thought of as loans that school districts request to finance major construction projects. Taxpayers repay them over a period of time. When the bonds are completely repaid, property taxes decrease.
Money from millages is used for normal operating costs and academic needs such as teacher salaries and curriculum resources. There are typically fewer restrictions on the ways districts can spend millage revenue. When school districts request millage money, they typically ask for an operating millage lasting a year or two.
Millage money is incorporated into the budgets of school districts and is part of the local category of revenues, but it is not the sole source of funding.
In Michigan, each school district receives around $9,150 per student from the state. Therefore, a school district with 5,000 students would receive approximately $45,750,000 in total student state funding.
On top of that, school districts also receive federal school funding.
The following chart shows that for the current 2022–2023 school year, Zeeland Public Schools, which has about 6,150 students, will receive nearly 75% of its funding from the State of Michigan.
Zeeland Public Schools: Budget 2022–23
For comparison, here are the percentages of funding received from the state for other Ottawa County school districts: Grand Haven 58%, Hudsonville 80%, West Ottawa 67%.
School districts create budgets based on their revenues.
From the total revenues listed above, the chart below shows how Zeeland budgets its expenditures for the 2022–23 school year:
Zeeland Public Schools: 2022–23 Expenditure Budget
Instruction expenditures include classroom expenses and continuing education, while student support includes services such as truancy prevention, guidance, psychology, and social work.
Operating budgets include everything from transportation and support for after-school clubs and sports programs, educational software licenses, support-the-arts programs, and employee wages.
Each school district determines the millage rate they will request, and the revenue generated depends on multiple factors.
For example, it is common for districts to request millage taxes not only from local residents, but also from local businesses and outsiders that happen to own second homes in the community. In effect, the latter-mentioned taxation approach amounts to taxation without representation. Registered voters who do not own businesses or second homes are able to vote to collect taxes from those who do, generating significant school district revenue.
What Happens If A Millage Vote Fails?
School boards receive input from the superintendent and department heads, but are ultimately responsible for the budget.
When a millage vote fails, the board will either put it on the ballot again or determine where to cut spending in order to save money.
During this millage election season, be sure the millage proposal you are voting on makes sense for the needs of your community.
After all, it’s your money and you have a say in how it’s best spent.