FLINT, Michigan—On Thursday, Mar. 5, Flint Public Schools Superintendent Derrick Lopez hosted a Millage Renewal Parent Meeting inside the Holmes STEM Academy library.
The discussion, which was attended by Brownell-Holmes parents and residents, focused on what the millage’s renewal would mean to residents if voted on Tuesday, March 10.
If renewed, Lopez said, the millage will be split differently in order for the school district to more quickly pay off a $22 million loan taken out in 2014. The loan would take seven years to pay off, as opposed to the current timeline of 18 years.
The millage, which would not raise taxes, would be divided in such a way as to allow the district to invest in teachers, infrastructure, arts, and athletic programs while also paying off its debt.
Currently, the district has a 4-mill sinking fund tax. If passed, the renewed millage would reduce the tax to a 1.18-mill tax. The 2.82-mill would then be used as a bond to levy off property owners and to pay off the district’s debt.
“When I arrived in Flint … I was told there was a $6 million surplus … What I quickly learned was that four years early, they [school district] had taken out a $22 million loan …,” Lopez said.
“What happened was they in fact borrowed this money, and didn’t make the cuts necessary to make sure the district ran smoothly.”
Thes lack of adequate cuts combined with the burden of paying back the loan, left the district facing a deficit. “When I got here, what looked like a $6 million fund balance was in fact, decreasing rapidly. I’m here 18 months and now we don’t have a fund balance anymore,” Lopez said.
That loan currently costs the district approximately $2.1 million per year. This cost paired with an approximate $3.6 million yearly special education cost leaves the district with a $5.7 million yearly deficit.
Initially, Lopez planned on closing four public schools including Pierce Elementary and Eisenhower Elementary as well as making administrative staff cuts. However, over the course of four community meetings with Flint residents, it became clear to Lopez that the closing and the following consolidation of schools would be more of a detriment to the community than a benefit.
“The community very clearly said to us: ‘Hey, every time you close a school, you decimate a community,’” Lopez said.
This change in the millage Lopez says, is also part of a larger effort within the district to revive Flint’s public school system to its previous state around 50 years ago where everyone involved—teachers, bus drivers, food workers, and administrators—contributed to the overall community pride.
Brownell-Holmes residents, like Jeanette Edwards, brought up specific concerns regarding IEPs (Individual Educational Plans) for students with special needs. As a grandmother to children with special needs inside the Flint Public Schools system, she wanted to know why “some teachers are not being held accountable for following IEPs,” Edwards said.
Lopez reiterated that IEPs, which are usually developed by a child’s caretakers along with teachers when they have special education needs, are legal documents that the district must enforce. “We as a district, because we are held to federal and state standards, are required to follow IEPs,” said Lopez
Lopez hopes the millage which will allow the continued funding of extracurricular programs among others will draw in more students to Flint community schools. The district currently counts 3,800 enrolled students, Lopez wants to see that number more than double to 8,000 in the coming years.