Voters gave Lansing schools $120 million 3 years ago. The district is asking for more.

RJ Wolcott
Lansing State Journal
A crew works on the roof at Dwight Rich Academy on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Lansing.

LANSING - Three years after voters approved a $120 million millage to support the Lansing School District’s Pathway Promise plan, officials are going back to voters for more than $70 million  over the next 10 years.

The Pathway Promise introduced three specialized paths students could take through high school. It brought with it substantial renovations to several schools, including turning Pattengill Academy into the new Eastern High School

The district is calling this new millage proposal "Securing the Pathways." Voters will get to weigh in on it on May 7.

Here’s what you need to know about ballot proposal, its potential impact, and why the district is bringing another millage to Lansing voters.

What is being asked of voters

The district is seeking a 3-mills for a sinking fund that would be in effect for the next decade. That fund would be used for upgrades like new roofs and heating and cooling systems. The district is also aiming to upgrade the security at its buildings with key-card accessible exterior doors and additional security cameras.

“The biggest reason the district needs the sinking fund is to help us reinvest in our infrastructure needs,” Rachel Lewis, president of the Lansing School District Board of Education, said.

How much will this cost?

The new 3-mill tax would cost the owner of a house with a market value of $100,000 (roughly $50,000 in taxable value) $150 a year.

The district is currently levying 2.34 mills – about $117 per year for someone with a home with a taxable value of $50,000 – for its 2003 millage to pay for building Pattengill Academy. That millage expires in 2023.

Another 2.25 mills was levied in 2016 for the $120 million Pathway Promise millage. That cost the owner of a house with $50,000 in taxable value about $112.50 per year. That millage was approved for 25 years.

The Lansing School District's millage rate is currently the second lowest among of Ingham County public school districts, ahead of only Stockbridge Community Schools, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

If the sinking fund is approved, the district’s rate would surpass Mason Public Schools but would still be below the majority of public school districts in Ingham County.

Half a dozen community members came out to Letts Community Center Wednesday to learn more about the proposal. Among them was Brad Vauter, a 65-year-old resident of Lansing's west side.

He said he sees the value in repairing the district's buildings, which officials said on average are 60 years old.

Better school buildings means higher home values, Vauter said.

What will the sinking fund pay for that the $120 million millage didn’t?

The proposed sinking fund would pay for infrastructure and security upgrades at schools that didn’t receive them as part of 2016’s $120 million millage, Lansing Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul said.

“If we had gone out for a bond to do everything together,” she said, “we’d be asking for about $390 million.”

She added, “We thought $390 million was too much for a community to handle in one fell swoop.” 

Caamal Canul said the district has $400 million in estimated infrastructure needs.

District spokesman Robert Kolt said the board decided on 3 mills because it would allow the district to address its most critical needs and isn't much larger than the 2.34 mills set to expire in 2023.

The 2016 millage focused on buildings that needed substantial renovations to make them ready for the district’s Pathway Promise, she said.

That program divided the district's schools into three pathways for students to choose based on their interest:

  • Eastern High School for health sciences or human services
  • Everett High School for arts and communication or information technologies
  • Sexton High School for engineering and advanced manufacturing or insurance and finance

In its materials on the 2016 millage, officials said every elementary school in the district would see improvements, including security upgrades. That’s come in the form of new furniture, technology and key-card access to front doors, Caamal Canul said.

Roughly $18.9 million was earmarked for general building and efficiency improvements as part of the 2016 millage. 

“The (2016) bond triaged critical needs in schools we were retrofitting for the Pathway Promise,” she said. She mentioned a roof replacement at the Dwight Rich School for the Arts and new windows at Everett as examples.

After watching other millage proposals fail, Caamal Canul said the focus in 2016 was intentionally set on the educational benefits of the Pathway Promise, rather than on infrastructure.

How much does the district expect to raise with this millage?

If approved, the district anticipates collecting approximately $7.3 million in the first year, according to the ballot language.

Over 10 years, it is expected to bring in between $70 and $75 million, Caamal Canul said.

Where can I learn more?

The district has set up a website with more information on the proposal: lansingschools.net/district/securing-the-pathways

Contact RJ Wolcott at (517) 377-1026 or rwolcott@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @wolcottr.