March 13, 2013

Haslett School Board aiming for Aug. 6 tax vote

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By Joe Grimm
Meridian Times staff reporter

MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP—A plan to improve Haslett schools, especially the high school’s performing arts center, took a step closer to a vote March 11.

School Board members agreed to gather input on a tax issue, to discuss it at the April meeting and to decide in May. The issue would be on the Aug. 6 ballot.

The tax would be for 10 years. Board members discussed a tax between 1 and 1.5 mills. Owners of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $100 a year per mill. Homes are assessed at half their market value. The difference between 1 mill and 1.5 mills on the owners of that $200,0900 house would be $50 a year.

School Board Vice President Kristin Beltzer strongly favored more than a mill, chopping the table with her hand for emphasis. “We need to educate people about what the vision is … talk about the dollars and what that means.

“We should put a plan together that looks toward August. I think a lot of times it just comes down to understanding what we’re doing and where we’re going. … We read in the paper all the time about how some town commission is putting on more taxes, but what if they don’t?”

“We rely on ourselves and we take care of these kids.”

“If that $25 or $50 would be hard for them, call the school district. You have my word right now. Call me and we’ll help.” She stopped short, laughing that she couldn’t help all of the district’s 3,000 families as other board members laughed, too. She concluded, “I feel very good about this.”

Board President Don Frank agreed: “Having some community forums would be a good idea. I think we have a good idea. … I think we have a consensus on this.” Trustee Lorie Barbieri confirmed that a May decision would be early enough to put the proposal on the August ballot.

Amount of request still undecided

Just before going into executive session to talk about teacher contracts, Superintendent Michael Duda said that a 1-mill issue “will do, but it won’t do the auditorium expansion. There’s about a $3 million gap.”

Director of Finance Steve Cook said that the big need is not just repairs, but additional space. He said that the auditorium has 750 seats and that when it was built more than 20 years ago, costs were shaved by building just one dressing room and a small storage area. He said high school’s performing arts center is the district’s largest auditorium and is used by the high school and the middle school.

Students feel the pinch

Two students from the high school said later in the week that the backstage areas is “tight” and that performers must do costume changes in restrooms.

Marc Hooper, a junior at Haslett High School, performed on the stage in “Doo-Wop Wed Widing Hood,” a 1950s musical, when he was a middle-school student. He and another junior, who is still active in theater, said there is no room to store props, costumes and sets and that it is awkward to have just one changing room for boys and girls. He said the wings are “really small” and that “we don’t have enough room backstage for sets.” The students noted that there have been some recent improvements with the addition of mic packs for better sound.

Cook said that 20 years have made much of the auditorium’s technology obsolete but that this type of tax, called a sinking find millage, is for infrastructure improvements rather than teachers or computers.

The district is in the third of four years with a .7783-mill tax. That is now costing the owner of a $200,000 home assessed at $100,000 about $80 a year.

Cook said that revenues fell when property values dropped, taking a bite out of how much each mill brings in. “When your property tax revenues have gone down five percent over the past five years, you have lost.” When property taxes rise, revenues increase, even though the tax rate does not change.

Cook said the auditorium and performing arts center is the district’s largest gathering place and is used by the high school and the middle school.

While the board met in executive session to discuss teacher negotiations, a look inside the auditorium showed the wooden entry doors no longer close properly, a few seats are worn or torn or missing upholstery buttons and some carpeting is loose.