Detroit Public Schools officials, union leaders join to promote Proposal S

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Courtesy of The Detroit News

School and union leaders from Detroit Public Schools who are often at odds over politics and funding stood shoulder to shoulder today to talk about what they is the tragedy that will occur if voters do not approve a millage renewal on Nov. 6.

Proposal S will be on the ballot in Detroit and would provide $80.9 million – about 21% of the general operating budget — to DPS. It is a 10-year renewal of a non-homestead tax on businesses and rental properties. The proposal would not affect resident homeowners’ taxes.

If voters turn down Proposal S, the district will face layoffs as well as cuts to programs such as health, physical education and athletics starting in 2013. The millage provides the district with enough funding to employ 900 teachers, said Roy Roberts, the emergency financial manager for DPS.

“It will be disastrous if we don’t get this passed,” Roberts said.

If voters approve Proposal S, businesses and rental properties will continue to pay 18 mills, or about $18 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, giving DPS about $80.9 million in revenue.

The millage renewal comes at a time when the district has continued to fight a deficit and financial crisis, teachers have threatened to sue DPS over layoffs, the school board and Roberts have sparred for control, and the state reform school district has taken over the budget and operation of 15 low-performing schools.

“We’re putting aside our differences,” said LaMar Lemmons, president of the school board. “This is not about politics, it’s about our students. Without these resources, the financial emergency cannot be rectified and will be prolonged and delayed.”

It is unclear whether ongoing controversies will steer voters to vote down the millage renewal. Typically, voters in Detroit support school funding ballot proposals, having only turned down one in the past 40 years, said Keith Johnson, president of the teachers union.

This year, school and union officials are not taking for granted that voters will understand the importance of Proposal S, and are planning to visit churches and community events during the next five weeks as part of an informational drive, Roberts said.

By law, Roberts can inform voters, but not campaign in favor of Proposal S. That’s where union members come in.

“I encourage everyone to please vote yes on Proposal S,” Johnson said. “The potential loss of $81 million will cripple our efforts.”

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