Statewide demand for school construction, illustrated by the southeast Michigan project shown above, mirrors a national trend. There is a national backlog of $112 billion in school repairs and construction.
Voters in Wayne County's Van Buren Township have approved a new millage proposal to
fund repairs and improvements to existing schools, purchase new equipment, and build two
more elementary schools.
Van Buren school officials obtained approval in June for an 18-year, 1.3 mill sinking
fund-a millage collected for a set amount of time to pay for specific capital
improvements-which provides an additional $1.1 million of funding per year for the school
district's $40-million annual budget.
The approval came after Van Buren voters rejected earlier school millage and bond
proposals beginning in October 1995. The proposal that passed embodied a more modest
version of the previous proposals.
Some residents who opposed the earlier measures changed their minds on the most recent
vote. "This time I'm looking at things differently," parent Bob Thorne told The
Detroit News. "You start walking the hallways, and you see what the district is
Critics of the millage increase note the frequency of votes, four in less than three
years, and accuse its supporters, including Van Buren school board president Jere Dolph,
of wearing down voters to get their way.
"Their attitude was, 'We can bring this thing up every three months if we have to.
We'll keep bringing it up until [voters] pass it,'" said Tom Bowles, a member of the
school board. Bowles and another candidate, Vesta Rosen, were elected to the board in 1996
on an anti-tax increase platform, defeating an incumbent and four other candidates to win
"The people of Van Buren opposed the millage and bond increases because they
recognized that the district needed to control its costs before it hit residents with
higher taxes," he said.
Van Buren voters rejected several proposals in October 1995 to raise nearly $50 million
in new tax revenue for school renovation and new construction, computers, and buses.
Passage of the measures would have increased property taxes by an additional $350 per year
for a $100,000 home.
In June 1996, voters defeated a $48.2 million spending plan and a 1.4 mill increase by
a two-to-one margin. Dolph announced that the issue would be brought before the voters
again because "that's only two strikes."
In February 1998, voters turned down a 20-year, 1.3 mill sinking fund for school
improvements by a mere two votes, before approving the current measure in June.
"When it comes to tax increases [for school funding], the odds are against the
voters," said Bowles. "The elections are held at odd times and they can be
repeated any number of times as long as the ballot language is change."