Pontiac School District officials weren’t ready to predict a win in Tuesday’s millage renewal request, but say they’re pleased with it.
More than 1 million people are registered to vote in Oakland, and close to 10,000 voters cast ballots to decide Pontiac’s school millage.
Of the 9,789 who filled out ballots, 5,657, or nearly 58%, voted yes. No votes totaled 4,132, or just over 42%. Precincts in Pontiac overwhelmingly voted for the millage, but voters in nearby precincts served by the district, such as Lake Angelus and Waterford, voted against it.
Gill Garrett, the school board president, said the operating millage approved by voters Tuesday ensures the district will receive $220,000 in 2023 from taxes levied on businesses and for homes which are not owner-occupied, known as non-homestead residences.
The millage money will go into the general fund and pay a fraction of the district’s $109 million annual budget. General funds pay salaries for teachers and staff, textbooks, technology and supplies, among other day-to-day expenses.
He said millages can be confusing for most people, because the language is structured in such a brief way for the ballot, voters miss the background.
A key fact about this millage, he said, is that if voters had rejected it, the school district would have lost close to $2 million in 2029.
“So we’re grateful to the voters for passing this,” he said.
“The key to the win is our voters and their commitment to our students. Our district is somewhat unique in that our voters live across multiple municipalities in our area,” said Heidi Hedquist, school district spokeswoman. “We appreciate the efforts voters made to understand the direct impact each of their votes would have on the district and their commitment to considering what is best for our students.”
She emphasized this millage did not increase taxes, but allowed the district to levy the same 18 mills on businesses and non-residential properties.
Otherwise, the district would have had to follow a state-mandated reduction of that levy.
“We are grateful to the voting community and the impact this passage means to our students and staff,” she said.
Asked about precincts that voted against the measure, Garrett said he understands those votes, but sees a silver lining in the number of people who cast ballots.
That, he said, shows voters are engaged and care about district governance. He said school officials are aware the district’s history of fiscal mismanagement over 22 years continues to sting taxpayers.
“We went from a deficit of $12 million in 2006, then $56 million in 2013,” Garrett said. “We got a new superintendent and went through state management. Now we have a $10 to $11 million surplus.”
Garrett acknowledged it’s easier to rebuild the district’s finances, no small feat, than the public trust.
One act, he said, was a forensic audit of the district’s finances. Another he credits to the stewardship of the district’s business manager, James Graham. More needs to be done, Garrett said.
“We’ve just got to do better showing them they can trust us with their tax dollars,” he said. “It’s our jobs as elected officials and public entities. We need to keep asking what we can do for the public and how they can help us.”