Christie Ramsey was very happy for her three children in Rockford Public Schools, following Tuesday’s approval of an enhancement millage providing $19.9 million for local schools. But she was just as happy for all 94,000 students in Kent ISD, whose districts will each get $211 per student to help meet their educational needs.

“I can’t even say how excited as a parent and activist I am that this passed, and how proud I am of all our superintendents and parents and community members who supported this,” said Ramsey, who worked for its passage as parent co-chair of Friends of Kent County Schools. “That’s a huge feat to get it passed in 20 districts with 20 different economies. (It) says a lot for our community.”

By making Kent ISD the sixth intermediate district in the state to adopt an enhancement millage -- by a 54 to 46 percent margin -- nearly 40,000 voters showed they not only place high value on public schools, but recognize they need more help than they’re getting from Lansing, leaders said.

“I think it’s a reflection of the community’s support of their local schools, and the quality work happening in those schools, and an understanding of the financial strain these schools have been under for quite some time,” said Ron Caniff, superintendent of Kent ISD. “I’m very grateful to our voters and our stakeholders for their support.”

School district leaders are grateful as well for the 0.9 mill levy from voters. Far from a windfall, it will help them maintain programs, retain and attract staff and pay for classroom materials by supplementing lagging state funding, superintendents say.

“Not only am I grateful, but I will make sure the community gets a positive return on their investment,” said Teresa Weatherall Neal, superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, which will realize about $3.5 million from the millage.

Neal and others attributed the win to school leaders, parents and community members pulling together to explain the need and a funding mechanism new to local voters. Through social media, community meetings and testimonial videos, the word got out despite last-minute robocalls urging a no vote, Ramsey said.

“I think the message was clear: If we can get this money, we can maintain programs,” she said.

School News Network spoke to four superintendents about what the millage will mean for their students and districts.

Teresa Weatherall Neal

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Although her district will reap the largest amount from the millage, Neal saw the vote as a big plus for all of public education in Kent ISD.

“It really speaks volumes not only for Grand Rapids Public Schools and our supporters, but across the county,” Neal said. “It sends a strong message as to how people in this county feel about the children we are serving and those of us who are serving the children.”

The city of Grand Rapids passed the measure by a vote of 9,352 to 6,606 -- a 59 to 41 percent margin. All three city wards approved it, and 63 of its 77 precincts.

Neal credited a broad range of support “from one end of Kent County to another,” and Caniff for taking on such an ambitious proposal so early in his tenure at Kent ISD, saying it “speaks to his great understanding of what is needed in this community.” That voters approved it by a comfortable margin was “a vote of confidence in our public schools,” she said.

For the nearly 17,000 students in GRPS, the millage will mean continued focus on third-grade reading, middle school science and math, and more money for classroom materials, Neal said. It will also help GRPS recruit and retain high-quality staff, she added.

She said the district will begin allocating the funds once the school board has balanced the budget, but emphasized, “I’m not looking to those dollars to fix the deficit.”

Neal thanked the broad community for making the millage a reality: “This was new for us to come together and all roll in the same direction. It just shows the power of one voice.”

 

By Charles Honey, Erin Albanese, Morgan Jarema, and Alexander Sinn, Courtesy of School News Network