Facebook Twitter
A sign up sheet for after-school programs at Earhart Elementary-Middle School in southwest Detroit.

A sign up sheet for after-school programs at Earhart Elementary-Middle School in southwest Detroit.

Anthony Lanzilote/Chalkbeat

A plan to fund after-school programs in Wayne County is seeking public support, but Detroit school officials so far are hesitant

A new community group has launched a petition drive to place a countywide property tax on the ballot next year to fund after-school and summer programs for Wayne County children.

The campaign committee, called Wayne Kids Win!, has until Dec. 3 to collect the signatures of 53,000 registered county voters to place the 1-mill, five-year proposal on the March 10 ballot. A 1-mill tax equals 1/1,000 of a dollar. A property owner pays $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value of a property. 

The average owner of a home in Wayne County would pay an additional $82 in taxes annually if the millage is approved.

The March 10 election includes the Democratic presidential primary in Michigan.

A spokesman for the tax backers said Wednesday that the committee includes education leaders, law enforcement leaders, elected officials, child advocates, and business leaders.

Supporters of the committee, listed on a news release, include Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, DTE Energy President and CEO Jerry Norcia.

“By increasing access to high-quality after-school programs, we can help all Wayne County kids achieve and succeed, whether that means college, technical school, jobs right after graduation or thousands of career opportunities in the skilled trades,” Duggan said in the news release.

Organizers said the proposal will address a $55 million funding shortfall in after-school programs across the county.

The money generated from the mill — about $42.5 million annually for five years — would go toward programs “that promote safety, improve math and reading skills, help develop work-readiness skills and provide recreation for Wayne County children and youth” after school, on weekends, and during the summer.

The proposal would land in the same year two other big education-related millage proposals are expected to hit the ballot, both potentially having a dramatic impact on the Detroit school district and its residents.

Tuesday night members of the Detroit school board hesitated over some details of the tax proposal.

“The concept here is to fill the gap with the summer slide,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, referring to the academic slide students often experience during the summer months when there is no school. He said the millage would provide “more enrichment opportunities for students after school.”

Board members, though, raised questions about whether the district would receive any of the funding, who would divide the proceeds, and whether the millage should be a priority for a district that is struggling with paying for buildings and maintenance.

Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, the board’s vice president, said she would need to see official ballot language before deciding whether she could support it. Board member Sonya Mays agreed. 

Mays asked whether — given other ballot initiatives the district would likely present to voters — “this is the best place for the district to be thinking about levying … mills.”

Detroit voters will likely be asked to renew an 18-mill operating millage that helps pay off school debt. 

Countywide, voters are expected to be asked to renew a millage that has generated nearly $80 million annually for schools. It has helped Detroit district pay increases to employees.

Vitti said continuing to provide salary increases and fixing the district’s crumbling buildings are priorities. But he also noted that after-school and summer programming benefit children.

He said he would follow up with members to address their concerns.

“I understand the board members’ concerns,” Vitti said during the meeting. “Some of these same issues, I have raised.”

The campaign committee’s web site explains that the proceeds of the millage would be distributed in this way:

“An independent oversight board, comprised of Wayne County community stakeholders and youth development experts, will be established to distribute funding to community based organizations that provide after-school services proven to work and address community needs.”

Mark Fisk, a spokesman for the committee, said school districts, charter schools, nonprofit organizations and agencies such as parks and recreation departments could be eligible for the funding. He said the money would be collected by the county, but would be administered by the 15-member oversight board and approved by the Wayne County Commission.

Vitti said he has asked that either he or a member of the Detroit school board be a part of that oversight board. He said some might object to that, given the number of school leaders in the county.

According to the release, a public website will provide information on the millage revenue and an independent audit will be conducted annually “to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

The committee also noted in its news release that the kind of programs the millage would fund have been shown to “reduce drop-out risk factors, improve behavior, boost student achievement and support working parents so they can keep their jobs and support their families.”

“I see every day how high-quality after-school programs help provide a strong social, emotional and intellectual foundation for my students,” said Linda Moore, a teacher and president of the Taylor Federation of Teachers. “By increasing access to after-school programs to all Wayne County students, we can ensure all kids and youth in our communities are ready to succeed in the classroom and beyond.”