One more time?

Gwinn school board mulls asking for sinking fund millage — for third time

Gwinn Area Community Schools Vice President Dawn Andrews listens to discussion about the district’s sinking fund issue on Monday at a special board meeting. Voters on Aug. 6 defeated a request for 1.75 mills for 10 years. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

GWINN — After seeing the school district’s request for a sinking fund millage defeated again in the Aug. 6 election, the Gwinn Area Community Schools Board of Education has decided against putting the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot, opting instead to wait.

The school district had sought a levy not to exceed 1.75 mills, which is $1.75 on each $1,000 of taxable property value, for 10 years — 2019 to 2028. The sinking fund would have gone for items such as the repair of school buildings and school security improvements.

The board on Monday discussed options on how to proceed.

“The needs are there and are going to continue to be there,” Treasurer John Waldo said.

The board unanimously voted not to put the millage request on the Nov. 5 ballot.

However, the issue will be kept on upcoming board meeting agendas for possible inclusion on the March 10 ballot.

Board Vice President Dawn Andrews said she has been out in the community discussing the matter.

“A lot of people are stuck on the cost and the school money,” said Andrews, who suggested the district keep the 1.75 mills but only for four to six years.

“We do need the money,” she said. “There’s no doubt. Nobody is just saying that the school doesn’t need the money. There is a lot of apprehension in regards to the 10 years just because we need to prove how fiscally responsible we are.”

She also suggested an updated needs list be created.

Trustee Glenn Boogren noted the request would mark the third time the sinking fund millage would go to residents for a vote.

“I don’t want to rush into it, fail again, and then we’re back for number four in the spring,” Boogren said. “I would much rather spend more time planning for this, attempting to sway the community in our favor, getting more information out to the community and doing much more outreach than we did for the previous election.”

Trustee Brad Johnson acknowledged one negative aspect.

“We do have black eyes up here,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of ground to make up. It’s no fault to any of us sitting here tonight, but it is what it is. We’ve got to do something.”

The district was experiencing financial troubles when AJ Filizetti, then director of finance and human resources, was terminated in 2017 because of records and finances not being in the proper shape.

However, the school district has been climbing out of a $406,000 deficit since 2017 but has been careful with its spending ever since. At the June board meeting, it was announced the district would end the fiscal year with only a $13,555 deficit after the amended 2018-19 budget was passed.

Waldo acknowledged the district now has a positive and a negative momentum, with the recent election results showing the negative beating the positive.

“I’m leaning more toward the March (election) as well,” Waldo said.

Rick Wills, who called himself a lifetime member of the community, said at the meeting he supports the sinking fund.

“I think it makes sense, not that I want to pay more taxes than anybody else does, but I know that you can’t run a school district, you can’t run a police department, you can’t run all these things on nothing,” Wills said.

He suggested the next request be held in March.

“With all the turmoil that’s in the community about the vote, I think it would allow a little more time for things to settle down in the community,” Wills said. “I think it allows more time for the board and the administration to figure out how they want to go forward with the next election. Also, I think going into the Christmas season, it’s probably not a time that people want to be looking at forking out more money.”

If the request were to be placed on the March ballot, the language would have to be turned in to Marquette County elections officials by Dec. 17.

The district’s upcoming needs include addressing the district’s drinking water and installing an e911-compliant phone system.

Superintendent Sandy Petrovich said the deadline for putting in the phone system is Dec. 31.

“There will be some non-negotiables that we just won’t be able to do,” Petrovich said.

Andrews said students should be able to provide input on the district’s needs.

“I think if we wait until March, there should be a committee of kids involved, that want to be involved, and they need to have some say as well,” she said, “because if they go home excited to mom and dad about the wonderful things that are happening, they’re going to hear positive things, not all the negative things that are constantly being told.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.