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Hartland school officials say millage on Tuesday ballot “essential” to retain current programming

Voters in the Hartland Consolidated Schools district will cast ballots for a non-homestead millage on Tuesday, with politics inserted into what has typically been a routine funding decision.

Last approved by Hartland voters in 2018, the millage will cost nothing for residential homestead property owners, but instead renew and restore the full 18 mills on non-homestead properties, generating approximately $5.5 million annually for the school district’s operating budget through 2028.

However, the leadership of the Livingston County Republican Party, including Chair Jennifer Smith and 7th District Chair Dan Wholihan, have been actively campaigning against the millage, saying if the millage is defeated it will provide the local GOP influence on how they believe the district should operate.

“The top reason to vote no isn’t due to taxes, but due to leverage,” said Wholihan in a social media post. “These millages are leverage the voters have on the school board and administration. If things are not properly run, the right thing to do is to not add funding to them until they change their ways. Money talks and it’s the only thing the Board understands. I think the Board needs a new Chair and I think the district needs a new Superintendent. The voters cutting off funding, especially non-homestead will send a message that the status quo for the past few years is unacceptable.”

Generally speaking, what the group has found as “unacceptable” are ongoing efforts by the district to be more inclusive on issues of race and gender, as well as utilizing well established concepts such as Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in its instruction. SEL is described by the district as a team approach centered around five core competencies: Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Self- Management, Responsible Decision-Making, and Self-Awareness.

To counter the effort at defeating the millage, the group Livingston Integrity has marshaled an information campaign to support its passage, noting that “a solid public school system protects everyone’s investments in their property by protecting property values.  It protects basic services that we all use by keeping the tax base solid,” states a post on the group’s Facebook page.

“The quickest way to destroy the community is to destroy the schools,” it adds, before laying out a point-by-point explanation of the millage, mirroring details provided by the district. It then concludes with an exhortation to “Vote Yes!  Do not destroy our community. If voted no our schools will lose $5.5 million per year.  That is $25 million over the course of 5 years.  This will destroy Hartland!”

Among the details the district has been providing to the community are:

  • Non-homestead properties are generally commercial, business, vacation and rental properties and do not include a family’s primary residence.
  • The Michigan Constitution requires that millage rates be “rolled back” if taxable values increase more than the rate of inflation. As a result of this roll-back provision, the district is currently only able to levy 17.8939 mills instead of the full 18 mills.
  • The May 2 ballot is asking voters to renew the 17.8939 mills, and increase the .1061 mills in order to restore the millage rate back to the full 18 mills beginning with the 2023 levy.
  • According to the district’s information page, this is not a new tax, but the renewal of an existing levy that has been in existence since 1995. Additionally, the funds cannot be replaced by other sources.

“The 18 mills assessed on non-homestead properties amounts to approximately $5.5 million annually to support operations including instructional resources, classroom supplies, and teachers,” states the page. “This funding is essential to maintaining the current programs offered by the district. Should the millage not be approved, the district cannot replace this funding with any other source, and those revenues would be lost. Hartland Consolidated Schools would be required to reduce or cut programs to offset the loss.”

Polls open Tuesday at 7am and will remain open until 8pm.

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