Special Education Tax Proposal Explained, as ELPS Bond Rating Remains at AA-

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Thursday, February 13, 2020, 11:30 am
Alice Dreger

ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko holds a copy of American School & University magazine’s story about the new Glencairn Elementary building at the January 27 Board of Ed meeting. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

East Lansing’s School Board played host this week to a special presentation from the superintendent of the Ingham Intermediate School District in an effort to educate voters about the small tax increase being requested via the March 10 ballot.

At the same meeting, East Lansing Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko noted that the district had just sold its second series of bonds related to the $94 million in bonds approved by 51 percent of voters in 2017 for reconstruction of the district’s elementary schools. According to Leyko, “The bonds were sold at interest rates that were much lower than originally anticipated,” which will save the district money.

In conjunction with the bond series sale, Standard and Poor’s Financial Services has assigned the district a rating of AA- according to a press release from the district. Responding to a question from ELi, ELPS Director of Finance Richard Pugh said today this is the same rating the district had prior to the recent evaluation.

Seeking voter approval for more regional special education funding

At the February 10 meeting of ELPS’ Board of Education, Ingham ISD Superintendent Jason Mellema explained in a special presentation that in Michigan, intermediate school districts (ISDs) are used as a means of extra governmental support to local school districts. Ingham ISD provides special education for children with disabilities, the Wilson Talent Center for vocational training, and Great Start early educational programming.

If passed by voters on March 10, the millage increase being sought (0.2438 mills) would provide about $2.3 million per year annually for 20 years for special education through Ingham ISD. For a property with a market value of $125,000, the increase would come to about $15 per year.

All registered voters in the East Lansing Public Schools district can vote on the ballot question. ELi reported earlier this week that absentee ballots for East Lansing Precinct 17, which is in Clinton County, accidentally left off this ballot question. Those ballots are now being reissued.

Mellema explained in his presentation on Monday night that there is a “huge range” of the amount of funding provided for special education around Michigan, creating significant inequities.

Ingham ISD Superintendent Jason Mellema at Monday's meeting (photo by Alice Dreger)

This is partly because of regional variations in property values. Mellema noted that wealthy lakeside communities in west Michigan might have the same millage rate as poorer communities, but high property values and lower population density means a much higher per-pupil support level. (How much a school millage produces per student depends on the millage rate, local property value, and student population.)

The ballot proposal at issue here is a called a “Headlee restoration” because it seeks to bring the actual millage rate back to what voters originally approved for Ingham ISD in 1988. That voter-approved rate of 4.75 mills has eroded due to the Headlee Amendment’s rule that caps property tax increases in an attempt to stop taxes from increasing rapidly.

At Monday's meeting, School Board member Kate Powers asked whether Ingham ISD might ask for an even higher millage at some point.

Trustee Kate Powers at the January 27 meeting. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

Mellema responded that the ISD was sensitive to the fact that local school districts are also asking voters for more money, and suggested voters might not tolerate too many “asks.” He didn’t want Ingham ISD to interfere with the needs of the local districts to raise money from taxes.

And in other ELPS district news …

At this week’s meeting, the Board also approved changes in the district’s sex ed curriculum, hired a new special education teacher for Marble Elementary School, and conducted various recognitions.

Board Vice President Terah Chambers said the Policy Committee of the district is looking to review the entire policy manual in the coming year.

Trustee Terah Chambers at the January 27 meeting. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

The meeting also involved discussion of how Leyko is holding up in the face of student petitions for a snow day. We have a separate report on that here.

See the agenda packet and associated materials for this week’s meeting here and view the video of the meeting here.


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