by Bruce Walker
Citing the need to accommodate a growing student population and improve the overall learning environment, Cedar Springs Public Schools in Kent County is asking property owners to approve an $81.1 million bond proposal in November.
The bond proposal would add 0.9 mils to an already existing 7.0 millage for 18 years, which is about an additional $45 per year for a home with an assessed value of $50,000.
In a phone conversation with The Center Square, Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Scott Smith said the $81.1 million request resulted from calculations made by GMB Architecture and Engineering based on needs expressed by the school district.
“Both our K-1 [kindergarten and First Grade] and high school buildings are maxed out,” Smith said. “Our preschool has more than 800 students a day, and each room is used all day long for students. Our high school has grown steadily over 10 years as a district.”
Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told The Center Square that statistics compiled by the research and education facility reveal only a slight uptick in enrollment numbers at Cedar Springs over the past 10 years. He said the enrollment numbers have remained steady at around 3,500 students during that time.
“School officials cite capacity concerns in their millage request, though the total enrollment has mostly remained steady in recent years,” he said. “Since the last voter-approved bond election in Cedar Springs in 2002, the enrollment for Cedar Springs Schools has grown a total of 5 percent,” which DeGrow said only registers slight growth.
Smith noted Cedar Springs’ enrollment projections are a 1 percent increase in students per year for the next five years.
“We’re a pocket of growth in Kent County,” he said.
DeGrow acknowledged that Kent County is an anomaly: “This part of the state is going against the grain of the statewide trend,” he said. “About 85 percent of Michigan’s school districts are losing enrollment.”
He added that Cedar Springs spent $5.9 million financing its current debt in fiscal year 2018, compared to spending $34.4 million on operations, which roughly amounts to $10,680 per pupil.
“Cedar Springs’ $81.1 million bond request ranks fourth in the state of the 57 school-millage measures on the November 5 ballot.”
“With nearly $40 million still owed, Cedar Springs voters would be wise to weigh the long-term costs of adding even more school construction debt to their tax bills,” DeGrow said.
– – –