Local News

Voters turn down East China Schools’ millage request

Photo courtesy of Jim Bloch. St. Clair Middle School is one of the 12 buildings that East China School District must maintain.

By Jim Bloch

It turns out that $20 per year was too much.

That’s what the owner of a $100,000 home in the East China School District would have paid per year for the next 10 years if voters had renewed the district’s sinking fund levy of .3992 mills.

In case you missed it, voters in the East China School District defeated the district’s request on Tuesday, May 3.

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It wasn’t close.

More than 55 percent of voters said no to the millage renewal. The final tally was 3,232-2,615.

Voters in eight of the nine cities or townships in the school district voted against the measure.

“A school district sinking fund is a millage levied to support school safety improvements, and the repair and construction of school buildings,” according to the district. “It is a ‘pay as you go’ system that does not require borrowing money or paying interest. A sinking fund can levy up to a maximum of 3.0 mills for a period of 10 years. ECSD is asking to renew .3992 mills.”

The money cannot be spent on consumable items such as books. It cannot be spent on teachers’ salaries. Instead, it protects the taxpayers’ investment in buildings, technology, and safety-related capital.

Breaking down the vote

The city of St. Clair was the only municipality in which voters approved the tax renewal. The vote total was 614-457; 57.3 percent of voters approved the levy. The measure was approved in each of the city’s three wards: 202-172 in the first ward; 241-147 in the second ward; and 171-138 in the third. The turnout was 23 percent, according to city clerk Annette Sturdy.

All of the townships rejected the renewal of the sinking fund. In Casco, the vote total was 103-139; in China, 317-506; in Columbus, 56-157; in Cottrellville, 217-423; in East China, 449-470; in Ira, 32-63; and in St. Clair Township, 536-689.

In Marine City, the measure was defeated, 291-328. In the city’s first precinct, the measure was approved, 164-134, but voters in the second precinct sent it to defeat citywide,127-328.

What’s next?

Jeanne Frank, president of the ECSD Board of Education, was surprised at the defeat of the millage renewal.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” said Frank, who added that she was afraid many community members did not understand the importance of the sinking fund.

Where the 2020 bond, pegged at $113 million, focuses on building new facilities and renovating existing ones, the sinking fund is primarily used to maintain those buildings, Frank said.

Without a sinking fund, building maintenance will have to come out of the general fund.

“We prefer to spend general fund dollars in the classroom,” said Frank.

Frank did not know whether the district would bring the sinking fund request in front of voters again.

There is a recent precedent to do so. The district’s bond request was defeated in 2019. The board and administration surveyed the community and found that voters were hesitant to combine Marine City and St. Clair high schools into one school. The district eliminated the combined high school proposal, trimmed the bond issue by 25 percent and voters passed it in 2020.

“Moving forward, the board will have to get together with administration and see if we want to put it before the voters again,” said Frank.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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