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Monday, November 4, 2019

Opinion: vote yes on the AAPS millage tomorrow

Gentle readers, tomorrow there is an election for those of you living in the AAPS district. You will be asked if the district should float a millage for a 30-year billion dollar bond. Here is more information about the specifics.

Here's my tl;dr: I am for the AAPS millage. Public schools are a public good, and it makes sense to do what we can to support the schools in our community.

In the last two decades, public schools in Michigan have gone from middle of the pack nationally to below 45th. At a state level, we have a broken system for funding public schools. This millage will not fix that. However, it will help to insulate AAPS against the budgetary reality at the state level (I think Michigan is the only state that has not increased school funding in the last 10 years). There are some folks saying we need to fix school funding at the state level rather than put this local bandaid on the budget. There is no way we will have a shot at fixing the school funding until the state legislature is not gerrymandered. So that means waiting until at least 2022 before we can even have a plan put forward at the state level. There is the possibility of a voter initiated petition drive, but I am unaware of any group working on this currently. A petition drive would require at least a year of work and likely millions of dollars. In short, I don't think it is reasonable to wait for school funding to be fixed at the state level before we try to make sure our local schools are OK.

The billion dollar price tag seems like a lot. AAPS has 32 buildings with an average age of 62 years. The millage comes out to about one million per building per year for the life of the millage. Without the millage, I am unsure how AAPS will pay for needed upgrades and it will certainly put the schools in a worse position.

Some people are upset that last year the school board dropped ~$800k to purchase a property next to a school where a daycare was going in. They see this as an example of how the board is out of control and making wastefull decisions. I think the board was largely responding to parent pressure. Also, $800k is only 0.08% of the millage amount. One example of a small, potentially wasteful purchase is not a great reason to not support the School District. Rather, it's a reason to work harder to ensure the district makes responsible choices in the future.

The anti-millage side has a lot of the usual anti-tax suspects. Now they don't say that they are anti-tax, instead they nitpick about this millage. I think this is disingenuous. I am seeing shades of the opposition to the 2009 Washtenaw County Schools Millage here. Note: the anti-millage group has not submitted a donor list at this point so I can't say which monied interests are opposing the millage this time. In 2009, it was the county's largest landlord.

There are also some AAPS teachers opposing the millage. The AAPS Teachers Union is officially neutral on the millage. AAPS administration has been pretty shitty to the teachers, who made pay sacrifices in the recession to help balance the budget. These have not been reciprocated by the administration. Teachers are rightfully pissed. The thought is that AAPS Administration should have done more to get the teachers on board and engage them with the millage. And if it's turned down by the voters the thought is that the board and administration will need to get teachers on board for a future millage. Thus the teachers will have increased leverage in upcoming contract negotiations. From my point of view, I am unsure how putting the district on a worse financial footing will help teachers.

So, I am for the millage. The Huron Valley Labor Federation/AFL-CIO support it. AAPS will need to modernize its facilities in the coming decades. If this millage is not passed, it will mean cuts to other places and painful tradeoffs to make the needed improvements. You can look at all the immediately needed repairs as well as future building needs here.


  1. Other notable endorsements of this millage are the local Sierra Club and The Ecology Center.

    They are supportive, in great part, because of a commitment to retrofitting these old buildings to be more long-term sustainable and be on the path for carbon neutrality.

    The Sierra Club's endorsement is here

    I can't find anything on the Ecology Center's site but Mike Garfield was quoted in an MLive article announcing this first-ever support of a school millage by this organization.

  2. I was the lone 'no' vote on the daycare purchase as at the time I didn't hear a clear and compelling reason to spend that amount of money, not without a clear purpose for the land. However, now it appears this may be used for one of the two new schools to be built, at first for staging as schools undergo construction, and ultimately as schools in their own right to accommodate enrollment growth.