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Here’s what you need to know about the Detroit district’s millage renewal proposal

A woman casts her ballot in the voting booth at the Kent County Public Library in Chestertown, Maryland, on October 25, 2018, during Maryland early voting. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)
Voters will decide Tuesday whether to support the Detroit district’s non-homestead operating millage, which will pay off existing debt.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday, Detroiters will decide whether to renew an important operating millage for the school district that helps pay off long-term debt.

It’s a significant vote because it’s the first millage election since 2016, when Michigan lawmakers OK’d a $617 million plan to address crushing debt in the city’s school district. That initiative created a new district — the Detroit Public Schools Community District — to educate students. The old district — Detroit Public Schools — continues to exist, but only to pay taxes and pay off debt.

The 2016 debt plan also ensured the new district —- DPSCD — would be able to operate with funding from the state’s School Aid Fund.

The district held a series of virtual community meetings as part of its effort to inform voters about the millage.

“We’re trying to keep it simple,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told Chalkbeat last month. “Most people are supportive,” he said. “They do get the big picture and why this is needed. So I’m optimistic that it’ll pass.”

Here’s what you need to know about the millage:

It doesn’t impact primary homeowners

The operating millage is considered a “non-homestead” millage because the revenue generated is paid for by industrial, commercial, rental, and vacation properties. That means if you own and live in your home, you don’t pay for this millage.

The revenue has an indirect impact on the district’s operations

In other Michigan school districts, the operating millage pays for day-to-day expenses. The money generated from the millage in the Detroit district, expected to amount to $65 million in 2023, goes toward paying off debt.

But it indirectly benefits day-to-day expenses since, as Vitti explained, “at the same time, dollar for dollar, we’re given the same amount” from the state.

What happens if it doesn’t pass?

The district will have several more opportunities to pass the millage before its 2022 expiration. However, if voters continue to reject the renewal, DPS creditors could seek a court judgment that would force all property owners to pay for the millage. So, if you’re a homeowner who opposes the millage, you could still end up paying for it if it’s rejected.

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