Proposal will be on March 10 primary ballot

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ROSCOMMON — Included on the March 10 presidential primary ballot in the Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw, Roscommon Intermediate School District area will be proposals to restore millages levied by the ISD to their original rates.  

COOR is currently funded in part by two millages which over the years have experienced rollbacks in accordance with the Headlee Amendment, which dictates that if the assessed value of a local tax unit’s total taxable property increases by more than the inflation rate, property tax millages must be reduced so the local unit’s taxable property yields the same revenue after being adjusted for inflation. 

The ISD’s operating millage, which was established at the founding of the ISD, originally levied taxes at a rate of .3 mills.

“After the Headlee rollback … we have had it drop down to 0.2530 (mills), and that’s for general operations,” COOR Superintendent Shawn Petri said. “And when you call it an operating millage, that’s exactly what it is — to operate the central office, the general ed, the career tech ed, and for special ed, we can disperse funds as needed.” 

The COOR operating millage generated $791,688 for the 2019-2020 school year. Petri said restoration of the millage to its original rate would generate an estimated $147,241.16 in additional funding. 

COOR also has a special education millage passed by voters in 1968 which originally taxed at a rate of .75 mills. Its current rate is .6329 mills, bringing in $1,998,180 to the ISD for the 2019-2020 school year. Petri said restoration of the millage rate would generate approximately $366,849.79 in additional funding. 

Petri said the annual cost to individual taxpayers in the ISD would increase approximately $2.35 for the general operations millage and $5.86 for the special education millage. These amounts are based on an average state equalized value of $50,000 for properties in the ISD. SEV is 50 percent of total property value. 

“I ran the numbers against a $50,000 SEV,” Petri said. “When I look at the average of the four counties, our average was anywhere from $89,000 home value to $109,000, so we used $50,000 as what we would figure for taxable value.”  

If approved, the restoration would remain in effect for 10 years. Petri said the ISD previously received a Headlee override for five years from 2007-2011. 

While the special education millage funds COOR’s center-based special education program in Roscommon, it also provides funding to special education programs at each of the schools within its district.

“What people often have a hard time understanding is when they think special ed, they tend to think of our center-based program only at COOR,” Petri said. “This millage is basically for all services to all schools for special ed.” 

The special education millage helps fund the salaries and travel costs of ancillary staff such as speech pathologists, physical therapists and psychologists which provide services at schools in the ISD’s four-county region.

“If the school doesn’t have that provider, they contract with COOR to send a provider in to work with students in those areas,” Petri said. “This millage pays for their services so we don’t have to charge the schools.”

However, the schools are currently billed for a portion of those services, as the special education millage does not generate enough revenue to offset the total cost of services. Petri said schools in the ISD were billed a total of approximately $615,000 for special education services last year. As of the 2017-2018 school year, the ISD’s millage rate was the lowest in the state out of ISDs that have special education millages.  

Petri said by law, school districts must provide a minimum level of special education services.

“Any amount that can’t be covered by the millage has to be charged to the local districts,” Petri said. “We have to pay for those (ancillary staff) salaries, and we have a very low millage that we operate with. Once that’s completely used up, we don’t have any other funding sources to pay for those salaries for those people, but by law you have to service those kids, so we end up taking that cost and billing it back to the local districts.” 

While restoration of COOR’s special education millage rate would not be enough to offset the amount billed back to the districts annually, Petri said it would allow the districts to keep some of that money in their general funds to be utilized elsewhere. 

Regarding the general operations millage, Petri said there are specific areas in particular which would benefit from restoration of the millage rate, and it would be dispersed as needed. 

“It would help us assist in more early services for kids,” Petri said. “When you look at pre-kindergarten, sometimes a child is distinguished as needing speech or physical therapy. We actually work with them before they go to school, so this money could go toward that department. It can also go toward career tech ed — it can be spread around where it is most needed.” 

COOR does not currently have a CTE millage, so the ISD’s CTE programming operates primarily on three funding tiers: tuition of $1,500 per student paid by the school districts within the ISD, state aid and federal funding through the Perkins Act. CTE programs offered by the ISD include welding, public safety, medical occupation, small engines, automotive and cosmetology. Most CTE programs were previously offered at the Kirtland Community College Roscommon campus, but due to the upcoming closing of the campus in 2021, all but the automotive and cosmetology programs have been moved to other schools around the ISD.

“Right now for career tech ed, we charge a tuition rate — because we don’t have a millage — of $1,500 per student,” Petri said. “We have federal funds and state funds that come in to help run it, but right now, career tech ed is operating at about $700,000 to run all the programs. We have to charge another billback — that $1,500 per student — to be able to pay for teachers, consumables and things like that.” 

Petri said the cost of operating the CTE programs has proven to be a difficult barrier to overcome, though COOR has managed to reduce the cost of tuition in recent years. However, another barrier is transportation, as students currently have to transport themselves to and from the programs.

“Two years ago, we were charging $2,800 per kid,” Petri said. “When I came in, we worked to bring it down so it was less tuition cost to the schools — tremendously less — but the problem is transportation. The kids have to transport themselves.” 

Petri previously told the Herald the ISD would consider proposing a CTE millage in the future so it could provide transportation for students. For now, however, he said restoration of rates for COOR’s current millages would play a large role in the continuation and improvement of services the ISD currently provides. 

For more information on the COOR March 10 ballot proposal or programs and services offered by COOR, contact Petri at 989-275-9520 or by email at petris@coorisd.net

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