Allegan school district's sinking millage would help foot bill for big-ticket repairs

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

As with many school districts in the county, Allegan Public Schools is turning to voters for a sinking fund to help maintain the school’s facilities.

The district is asking for a 1-mill tax for five years to help fund projects such as replacing aging roofs and heating and cooling systems, repaving parking lots, replacing outdated computers and other classroom technology.

After the school board’s Aug. 14 meeting, president Vicki Knuckles said, “It will give us the maximum flexibility to take care of the district’s facilities and make sure our students have what they need to succeed.”

She said the school administration had assembled a list of projects likely to come up in the next five years.

“These were things we’re anticipating,” Knuckles said. “I know we’ve kept up on the buildings, but sometimes we’ve just been picking the priorities.

District superintendent Kevin Harness said parking lots and major building systems were difficult to pay for using general fund money.

“This community has been

extremely supportive of the school in terms of bond elections for our students over years,” Harness said. “That has been for things like the pool, auditorium and renovations for all of our K-12 buildings.

“I also think we’ve done an excellent job maintaining those facilities. But, at this point with the level of funding from the state, to maintain programming and also to continue the building maintenance requires additional funding.”

He said this was not for simpler maintenance such as painting.

“This is for big-ticket items. We’re trying to be proactive. It would be tough to get $300,000 to $400,000 out of the budget; it gets virtually impossible,” he said.

District director of finance and operations Amy Christman said that while the state did increase school funding for the current year, it was modest.

“It was a small increase,” Christman said. “But, obviously, operational costs go up every year.”

She said the district had been able to build up the balance of funds in its general fund to a healthy level, such that it equaled approximately 10 percent of what it collects in revenue annually.

“When it comes to six-digit added expenses, to be able to accomplish those and also maintain the fund equity (that 10 percent), it’s just not possible with current funding.”

Though the ballot language for the sinking fund would allow the district to purchase and acquire land, Harness and many school board members said was no intent to do that.

Harness said, “There’s also no intent for building additions. That’s not what this is about.”

The tax is projected to add $498,127 in revenue for the school in the first year.

Christman said the law governing school sinking funds had recently changed to allow districts to pay for technology devices using the funds.

“That’s another cost that’s hard to keep up with,” she said. “We borrowed money this year to buy 1,230 Chrome books.”

Christman said the district is set to pay off the debt in three years but would be able to ease the burden on the school’s budget by using some of the revenue from the sinking fund to make the payments.

The notebook computers are part of the district’s goal to have each student using their own computer at school. Utilizing fully web-based software, the Chromebooks are expected to be more rugged, easier to update and maintain and have better security.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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