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Posted on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor schools to seek millage renewal for property upkeep in November

By Amy Biolchini


A football falls into the hands of senior Jaavaid Love, right, while being trailed by senior Quavon Smith during Huron High School's football practice Aug. 12. Replacing aging turf on Ann Arbor Public Schools' athletic fields is among a list of projects that would be funded should voters pass a sinking fund millage renewal Nov. 5.

Chris Asadian |

Voters will decide in November whether to renew a sinking fund millage for Ann Arbor Public Schools' physical property repairs and improvements following a unanimous vote by the Board of Education Wednesday night.

The board voted 5-0 during its regular meeting to approve the ballot language for a sinking fund millage renewal. Trustees Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett were absent.

The school district will be seeking a five-year renewal of the millage at the same rate it was previously—1 mill. That means the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $100 per year.

The sinking fund millage at the 1 mill tax rate was last approved by voters in 2008 and expires in 2014.

Should the renewal win voters’ support, it would take effect in 2015. Officials anticipate about $7.5 million would be collected in the first year—about the same amount that the district has been collecting since 2008.

By law, funds garnered from the millage cannot pay for general building maintenance, furniture, technology or salaries for teachers and administrators.

The district had been considering adding a bond proposal to the sinking fund millage renewal ballot language, but the school board nixed the idea at its previous meeting due to input from its legal counsel.

At the request of several trustees, said Tim Gruszczynski, supervisor of environmental services for AAPS, outlined a list of impending repair and replacement projects that the passing of the renewal millage would fund:

  • Replacement of turf on athletic fields, which is reaching the end of its 10-15 year lifespan
  • Replacement of two nearly 30-year-old underground storage tanks at the transportation yard
  • Replacement of a 25-year-old fiberglass storage tank at the Balas Administration Building
  • Replacement of the original cooling tower equipment at Huron High School
  • HVAC system upgrade
  • Replacement of clocks, bells, announcement systems
  • Roofing projects
  • Paving projects
  • Asbestos and lead abatement
  • Replacement of all exterior doors

Trustee Andy Thomas questioned whether the $7.5 million that was budgeted for maintenance from 2015 to 2019 would be enough to care for the district’s aging property portfolio.

With the exception of Skyline High School, most buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s—and some are even older, including Burns Park Elementary School, Angell Elementary School and Eberwhite Elementary School, Thomas said.

“I feel we’re near, if not past, the useful life of our buildings,” Thomas said.

All of the buildings owned by AAPS are worth $518 million, Gruszczynski said.

Gruszczynski acknowledged that there were some issues with the old buildings.

Trustee Glenn Nelson said that without the renewal of the millage, general fund dollars would have to be taken away from teachers and classrooms.

"This is a renewal, not a tax increase from current levels, and continues our commitment to excellent schools, rather than expands our commitment," Nelson said.

Vice President Christine Stead expressed her concern that the ballot language not be made too specific as to restrict the district's use of the sinking fund millage dollars should state law change.

"There has been legislation introduced more recently that may allow some expansion for services," Stead said. "Transportation potentially being covered by this could be a huge benefit to our community as well. That would be something to share with our community for possible expansion of scope for how some of these funds might be used—even though it's not super likely to happen, should it be possible, it would be a huge missed opportunity for the community to not have that ability to fund something that's a significant cost in our general obligation fund."

Trustees added wording to the draft of the ballot language they were considering to make the potential future use of the money collected by the millage broader in scope.

The following is the ballot language that the school board approved Wednesday night:

“This proposal would renew the authority last approved by voters in 2008 and which expires with the 2014 levy for the Public Schools of the City of Ann Arbor to levy a sinking fund millage.

As a renewal of authorization which expires with the 2014 levy, shall the Public Schools of the City of Ann Arbor, County of Washtenaw, Michigan, be authorized to levy 1.00 mill ($1.00 per $1,000 of taxable valuation) to create a sinking fund for the purpose of the construction or repair of school buildings and the improvement and development of sites and, to the extent permitted by law for other purposes including but not limited to the acquisition and installation of furnishings and equipment, by increasing the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be imposed on taxable property in the School District for a period of five (5) years, being the years 2015 to 2019. It is estimated that 1.00 mill ($1.00 per $1,000 of taxable valuation) would raise approximately $7,450,000 in the first year that it is levied.”

With its action Wednesday night, the school board has met the Aug. 27 deadline to file for the Nov. 5 ballot.

Amy Biolchini is the K-12 education reporter for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


A Voice of Reason

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

Beware....the MEA (Teacher's Union) is working very hard at the legislative level to shift operating expenses into Sinking funds across the state to free up more money for salaries and benefits for teachers. Remember--our teachers did not take a pay cut. They took a decrease in their guaranteed raises. BIG difference! Teacher's did not loose money out of their paychecks; instead of a 6% raise, they received a 3% raise regardless if they are a good teacher or not.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

"I feel we're near, if not past, the useful life of our buildings," Thomas said. That's ridiculous. This is just another example of the School Board being irresponsible with the money they are managing. They should not be surprised if the millage doesn't pass.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

Have they had a third party financial audit yet? If not, why not? What is stopping an audit?


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

There is an annual audit of the books at some level of detail. I believe there is a state law requiring this for each school district. However, AAPS has used the same chief auditor at the same firm fro more than a dozen years. There hasn't been any public disclosure of audit observations or areas of concern, even though there have been several very obvious problems such as ineligible dependents covered on health insurance, illegal uses of School Improvement Team money for race-based activities, and an absence of oversight and guidelines of guidelines for Pcard purchases (district-issued credit cards). I think AAPS needs a new audit firm, or at very least a new audit manager, if only to answer why these and similar items were not flagged for the Superintendent and Board of Education attention.

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.



Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

I find it very interesting that they don't want to have language that restricts the use of the funds. They BOE starts out the argument by stating how badly all this money is needed for property repairs and upkeep. But then state, lets not restrict it in case the law changes so we can use it for items that are coming out of the general fund (bussing) now. Sounds like they don't really need it for property repairs, since they are already eyeing spending the money on other items that are not presently allowed by law. How about the BOE learn to operate like a business and live within a budget, and use $$$ wisely!!!!!


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

So AAPS has another 7.5 million worth of unbudgeted maintanence costs .....So the plan is to renew a millage that was passed to pay for another long list of "one-time" maintanence costs. So basically the district has declining enrollment ( hence the need for open enrollment) and rising cost due to aging buildings. So where is the study to consolidate schools and reduce operating costs. Just raise taxes......which they know will pass because they always do....


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

Actually, I thought there was an article recently that we don't have declining enrollment. We have remained steady. Open enrollment is just to increase revenue because we currently donate a lion's share of the money we collect in taxes to other districts so they can offer more at their schools without paying what it actually costs. Talk about budgeting issues. A lot of schools would really be in trouble right now if we weren't one of several districts basically bailing them out.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

I generally support the idea of a sinking fund, and voted in favor of this the last time, but the list of projects in this article is amazingly unspecific. Aside from the athletic field artificial turf, which we can probably assume is for the stadia at Huron and Pioneer High Schools, because Skyline is still too new to need replacement and no other AAPS facilities have artificial turf, there are few clues to the buildings or locations where this work is planned. That's completely opposite the detailed list of renovations and additions to each and every school building that accompanied AAPS's PR push for a construction bond millage, much of which went to build Skyline High School. In the opinion of more than one school computer and infrastructure specialist, AAPS could have built the network closets and upgraded every school's WiFi and wired connections a year or two earlier using sinking fund money instead of spending the first 2 years' proceeds of the Technology Bond money on that project. Instead, we got upgraded weight rooms and field houses, both facilities normally closed to PE students and community members, at the two older comprehensive high schools. We should vote for this millage renewal only if AAPS gets their spending priorities right. First spend money as needed to ensure safety and security for students and staff, second on building or site infrastructure that supports the academic mission of the schools, third on improving building comfort, communications system and energy efficiency. Only after all of those priorities are served should we consider further upgrades to the very extensive and expensive facilities now devoted to high school extra-curricular athletic programs.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Pretty amazing how this school board never met a miliage that it was willing to just let expire when it was over.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

What is the cost of the turf replacement? What turf is being replaced? What are the specifics of the paving projects, with costs? Are any related to athletics?


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Would any of this money be used to REPLACE the boiler at Burns Park? The school is either roasting and all of the windows are open in the winter or freezing and everyone is wearing their coats, or half of the building roasting and the other freezing. Money could be saved by having a working system that can be controlled within the building, not remotely!


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

Happens at several schools I know of. You are not alone.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Until they truly get their spending under control I say vote NO! Haircuts are only half the way done and the taxpayers are being fleeced. Get rid of all the paid sick days, professional days, step raises and MESSA healthcare and then, maybe then we can look at voting yes. Good Day


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 4:39 a.m.

How about all of us give up our healthcare too, as a sign of solidarity.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

Will any of this money be directed at sports facilities that primarily serve after school athletics? Will any of it be directed at facilities that are exclusively serving after school athletics?


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

Read the first line of the projects: "Tim Gruszczynski, supervisor of environmental services for AAPS, outlined a list of impending repair and replacement projects that the passing of the renewal millage would fund: Replacement of turf on athletic fields, which is reaching the end of its 10-15 year lifespan"


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

This is ridiculous. Building maintenance should be budgeted. Oh, that's right. AAPS doesn't adhere to a budget. It just spends and spends and spends without regard to decreasing revenue and refuses to make necessary budget cuts. It has repeatedly shown itself to be fiscally incompetent. Year after year there are unexpected budget "surprises" costing taxpayers millions. Like having to borrow millions from the state for the first time in history. Where does this end? ENOUGH! NO NEW MILLAGES OR TAXES FOR AAPS! Learn to live within your means.

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

This is not a new millage, but a renewal of the existing tax for the next five years.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

JRW - I agree with much of what you said, but when you look at the total revenue from all sources for AAPS the revenue only decreased 1 time in the history of the district.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

Vote No. Close Skyline.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

Barzoom - That would mean major re-re-construction in Huron and Pioneer. The two largest high schools were re-configured to make the capacity of the buildings less. They also removed a large number of portable classrooms that were well beyond the end of their physical life expectancies. Condemned trailer parks had better looking units in them. Closing Skyline is not an answer, as much as I might wish it was. The district swallowed the whole "comprehensive" high school line from the administration, and build a school it should not have, building a magnet school (think the top 2 floors of Skyline) would have been much cheaper to build, operate and run. Now we are stuck with Skyline as is for the next 40+ years. Moving AATech and Clemente into a single building makes sense, Moving Community at some point will also have to be done, the building is the oldest in the district, and eventually it will have to be replaced. The board will do nothing about thinking about long term plans as part of any redistricting, so we will have a crisis when the fire marshal finally condemns Community. It may take 10 or 15 more years, but it will eventually happen. But closing Skyline solves zero problems right now - there is no place for that many students to go.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

Where do you propose they put those 1400(?) kids? Huron seems to need the most work, both academically as well as in building repairs. But then, there is nowhere for all of the Huron kids to be redistricted. Middle and elementary schools are the ones that need to be streamlined.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

I agree with TryingToBeObjective, that it makes sense to redistrict first, then decide what needs repair. Unfortunately, the timing seems off. I truly doubt redistricting will go quickly, so the current sinking fund will run out before that's complete. And feelings will be hurt, so more people may vote no. Persona;y, I don't want AAPS funds to go to transportation, other than to pay a third-party contractor. AAATA is perfectly capable of providing enhanced service -- it's their main business. It's not the school district's. Put education dollars into education.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Doesn't it make more sense to do your redistricting, with potential closing of schools, before you replace exterior doors, do roofing and paving projects, etc? Can't some of those overpaid workers at Balas find community business to support or pay for some of these items? Would one of the businesses moving operations to AA sponsor the replacement of athletic fields, in return for a sign posted on the field?


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

Certain maintenance can wait, obviously. Some will need to be done if it impacts safety or further damage, obviously. A school that as a functioning set of doors may not need to have them replaced immediately.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 4:36 a.m.

Whether we redistrict or not, this is a renewal and NOT new taxes. We can't defer maintenance in buildings. Would you defer maintenance on a late model that you rely on everyday because you "might" replace it in a year or two?


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

Good points, forgot about the looming redistricting. It would make sense to get that figured out first.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

Exactly. They should not be spending money to replace things in buildings that they know will be closing.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

I realize that people are upset with the idea of redistricting, but we all know it's in the works. I don't necessarily believe that just the under-enrolled schools will close. Instead, students will need to be redistributed to buildings where it geographically makes sense.putting money into a building that may close is wasteful. Common sense.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 11:09 a.m.

"Vice President Christine Stead expressed her concern that the ballot language not be made too specific as to restrict the district's use of the sinking fund millage dollars should state law change." To me this is disingenuous. To approve something for a specific use is fine. To approve it for any future use that we can get away with is not fine. Based on that addition, I may vote no.

A Voice of Reason

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

they are

A Voice of Reason

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

Yes, there are hoping to take items from the operating expenses and shove them into the sinking fund. This will free up more money for salaries and benefits. The should be very specific about the use of the funds.

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

The intent of making the language more vague is to be able to account for any future changes in state legislation that could change the range of uses for sinking fund millage.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 11:07 a.m.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not sure I would have listed the athletic turf replacement as first on my list. It may not be chronological on the "to do" list, but it gives a certain impression, IMO. Don't advertisers have studies on this sort of thing---the psychology of begging for money, etc?

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 4:20 p.m.

The athletic field turf replacement was first on the list of items that Tim Gruszczynski mentioned in the projects that could be funded with sinking fund millage in the next five years. Most of the turf is about 10 years old and near the end of its 10-15 year life cycle.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 11:02 a.m.

Buildings are getting older. One of the buildings I went to school in was over 100 years old when I graduated, and it was used for another 20 years before being replaced. According to the facilities report in linked in the prior article, there was $2.7 million dollars of capital budget spent on 10 "projects" which have no other detail. Since the number of projects is only 10, don't you think that putting a single line of description in a 100+ page report on what those projects were would be reasonable? This is typical AAPS thinking, hide much of what the budget is used for in long reports that don't actually say how it was spent. Let the board treasurer come forward with a complete list of projects the sinking fund has been used for, as well as the "extra" projects that the remaining bond money was used for. So that the community is informed on how the money is actually spent. If they really want more, then be transparent with the funds that have already been voted on. As to new buildings, I agree some may need to be replaced, the question is can the district avoid the gold plating that went into Skyline? If Skyline had been built as a magnet school, as most of the people in the various meetings suggested and voted for - instead of the comprehensive school that was built - the building would have cost less than 1/2 of what it did. It would have had a better chance of meeting the LEED criteria that the district spent so much more money chasing. The cost to operate would have been much less as well. But, that is water over the dam. Can they really follow the laws - instead of spending more than $1 million over the years fixing ADA issues, like they have in Skyline. There is no excuse for not building Skyline to ADA standards, none at all. The fact that the district spent the money after the fact and did not chase down the architect to fix it is beyond me. Can the BOE do a better job this time with a building program?


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 10:48 a.m.

With budget constraints, why not move Balas operations to Pioneer which lost student population to Skyline? Studies have shown there is space for those operations. With budget constraints, the district continues to offer rec. and ed. programs and pay substantial salaries for those staffers. At the same time the city, and surrounding townships offer similar programs. Why not merge these activities into some sort of agreement between those organization to cut costs to the district? While it may be nice to have these available the core business of the district is to offer K-12 education. Where has cooperation between city bus service and AAPS transportion? Is this still an option? Breaking down the silos between city, university and the district could be an opportunity to shed costs for every organization and eliminate administrative salaries that continue to grow (AAPS transportion director makes over 100k at last check).


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

Gloriagirl - Rec&Ed, including ALL staff costs is self supporting within a few dollars each year. How they manage to make the program balance so well, is beyond me. They do a great job of making the changes to make the program revenue neutral (including space rental in the various buildings and recreational fields). This is one area where making cuts makes zero sense since it is fully funded by the people who use it. And if it is not in one year, the next year is setup to recover any shortfalls. On the rest of your suggestions, I fully agree.

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 10:37 a.m.

Jones School was built in 1925. It reopened in 1972 as Community High School.