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Voters to see Regional Enhancement Millage on Nov. 6 ballot

Krystle Wagner • Oct 27, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Ottawa County voters will see a countywide millage proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot that would increase funding for public schools.

The Ottawa Area Regional Enhancement Millage would levy 0.9 mill for 10 years. It would generate about $11.2 million the first year. The owner of a $100,000 home that has a taxable value of $50,000 or less would pay $45 annually.

The proposal would impact 11 public school districts and seven public school academies within the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.

The proposal is unlike what voters have approved before in regards to non-homestead operating millage renewals and bond proposals.

The Regional Enhancement Millage can be used for operational costs such as salaries and programming, explained Grand Haven Superintendent Andy Ingall.

Voters in seven intermediate school districts throughout the state have approved similar millages. Ingall noted the regional proposal helps all children in the county, not just individual communities.

After voters in Muskegon and Kent intermediate school districts approved regional enhancement millages, Ottawa officials started considering one. Officials determined the 0.9 mill after discussions and conducting polls. Spring Lake Superintendent Dennis Furton said it’s a threshold the community might support, and it would allow for districts to have a sustained investment.

“We want to make sure that for everybody in our community that’s counting on schools — educating students, future workforce, quality citizens — that our community has that same opportunity, too, if they choose,” Ingall said.

Over the years, Michigan districts have experienced funding cuts. Spring Lake and Grand Haven are at the base foundation level of funding from the state, Furton said. Prior to cuts in the 2011-12 school year, funding was flat two years prior, he added.

If funding kept pace with the rate of inflation, the Spring Lake district would have received an additional $2.2 million and the Grand Haven district would have received $7.5 million, according to Furton and Ingall.

“It’s forced us into making hard decisions about how to keep this impact away from the classroom, away from our students,” Furton said. “It’s resulted in a shared sacrifice amongst all of our staff to try to make this work.”

However, Ingall said they don’t believe it’s the community’s obligation to help the school district make up the funding.

Should voters approve the millage next month, each local district and public school academy within the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District would receive an additional $226 per pupil in funding. The millage would generate an additional $565,000 annually for Spring Lake Public Schools and $1.4 million annually for Grand Haven Area Public Schools.

Some of the ways GHAPS would use the funding would be for social-emotional needs, building security, and maintaining programs as well as putting more support into programs. The district would also use funding toward college- and career-readiness opportunities.

Spring Lake Public Schools would use the funding to expand efforts to provide mental health treatment for students, protection programs, class size, maintain infrastructure and create opportunities for K-12 students to be engaged with career-readiness opportunities.

Walden Green Montessori School co-interim Director Mark Roessing said they would use the funding, estimated at about $41,000 annually, to foster curriculum and continue Montessori-based education.

West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics Director Joanna Bennink said they plan to use the funding in ways such as classroom libraries, books and facility upgrades.

While the intermediate school district would collect and disperse the funds, it would receive its own per-pupil funding at less than 1 percent for students attending their programs.

Voters wanting to learn more about the Regional Enhancement Millage can attend a community meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Spring Lake District Library, 123 E. Exchange St.

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