Regional Enhancement Millage has made meaningful impacts on local school districts over the past five years
“… it has allowed our district to not just survive but thrive, even during the pandemic.”
– Stephen Seelye, Pellston Public Schools Superintendent
Revival of a dormant library. Fresh life breathed into a band program. High-quality, no-cost preschool helping working parents support their families. The start of a new garden to grow food for students.
In 2017, these initiatives were just hopes of local school district leaders who were asking voters in Charlevoix, Emmet and northern Antrim counties to support a Regional Enhancement Millage. Such a millage is the only option for districts to increase funding for district operations where per pupil funding might lag. It was a newer concept at that time, with only one other ISD in the state of Michigan, Kent ISD, having passed a Regional Enhancement Millage, in May 2017.
The 11 local superintendents and their respective school boards in Char-Em ISD collectively agreed to pursue a Regional Enhancement Millage in fall 2017, seeking voter approval of a 1.0-mill, 10-year levy. In outlining needs at the time, each superintendent shared their vision for how the additional funding would benefit their own districts.
“One of the biggest benefits of a Regional Enhancement Millage is that each district is able to determine how to spend the money they receive. Each district receives the same per pupil amount, multiplied by the number of students attending their district. Then it is up to district administrators to decide where to spend the dollars to meet their needs,” said Scott Koziol, Char-Em ISD Superintendent. “That was one key point that really resonated with voters: district independence.”
In November 2017, 57 percent of voters approved the proposal. The first levy was collected in 2018 – $5.3 million, which equated to about $615 per pupil. This school year, 2022-23, the millage generated $6.3 million, for a per pupil amount of $824. The amount received each year will vary, depending on the fluctuating regional taxable value.
(Char-Em ISD serves as the fiduciary of the millage collection but receives no funding from it; 100 percent of the revenue collected is dispersed back out to the 11 public school districts in the ISD.)
Now at the five-year mark of the 10-year collection, district superintendents are sharing how the money has impacted their districts. Below, districts are organized by county. It’s important to note that due to the flexibility of the millage, how districts report spending the money varies greatly, Koziol noted.
“It is important to not compare one district to another as doing ‘more’ or ‘less’ in a certain area or overall. Each one has been able to truly identify their own needs and utilize the funding to fill them,” said Koziol.
While each district has their own priorities, several common themes emerged among them: early childhood/preschool, career and college readiness, technology, school safety, staffing, extracurriculars, facility updates, curriculum and instructional supplies, and athletics.
Since the inception of the Regional Enhancement Millage, Beaver Island Community School has devoted all revenues to supporting early childhood education, said Superintendent Wil Cwikiel.
“With this new stable source of revenue, Beaver Island has been able to offer developmental preschool five days a week for 3-year olds and older at no cost at all to parents and families, as well as provide additional support for students with special needs in the early elementary program,” said Cwikiel.
Cwikiel noted that prior to the approval of the REM, Beaver Island offered a preschool program just two days a week, only for students who would be attending kindergarten the following year.
“Investments in early childhood education pay dividends throughout the lifetime of children,” said Cwikiel. “Not only have we seen an increase in the readiness for kindergarten, but we have seen the students who first started with the program expansion experience success as they have gone on to first and second grade.”
“With the REM funds, Boyne City Public Schools’ tuition-free preschool went from 30 students to 125 students in four years. The Early Learners preschool program also now provides special education services, including speech and language support to those students in need,” said Little. “The impact of this on our families cannot be overstated.”
In reporting on how the REM dollars have benefitted the district overall, along with the tuition-free 4-year-old preschool for all children, Little highlighted:
- Funding dual enrollment and 5th-year college program partnership with North Central Michigan College in Petoskey
- Support of career-based courses such as drafting/CAD and woodworking
- Support of 8th grade elective career exploration course
- Purchase of safety equipment
- Purchase of technology to aid instruction and learning
- Supplement bond funds in the improvement of facilities and buses
“The REM has opened doors for students to become more prepared for next steps in life. For preschoolers, they are more prepared for kindergarten. For 8th graders, they are wiser about career opportunities and for our high school students, they have hands on experience with both dual enrollment courses and career readiness courses thanks to the REM funds,” said Little.
Boyne Falls is one of the ISD’s smaller districts, but the number of programs and initiatives it offers its students and families rival any larger district. Superintendent Cindy Pineda cited two dozen line items made possible by the district’s share of the Regional Enhancement Millage dollars.
The highlights noted by Pineda include instructional and technology upgrades, like improved K-12 math curriculum and workbooks, software licenses, Chromebooks, and a Wellbeing Weekly subscription for elementary classrooms.
Facilities received updates, too, including gym bleacher repairs, office supplies, a new recycle station, and playground equipment. “We purchased and installed new playground equipment specifically for our preschool population,” said Pineda. “The equipment is safe, accessible, and specifically designed for preschool students.”
In terms of athletics, Boyne Falls was able to cover sports fees for football co-op, hire a JV volleyball coach, and install softball signage and basketball hoop motors. Pineda also pointed to additional staff at her district, including a part-time music teacher, additional first grade teacher to reduce class sizes, a hoop house caretaker, plus wages and benefits for the Student Success Advisor. Student enrichment opportunities have been another area of focus.
“The biggest impact for the Boyne Falls district is that I have been able to say ‘yes’ to some of the extra requests from teachers, students, and staff,” said Pineda. “In the past, I have said ‘no’ to some of the requested items because we did not have the funds to devote to them. Some of these “extras” include new Chromebooks for elementary, end of the year field trips, a new recycling station, and funding for some athletic opportunities and equipment. All of these items enhance our students’ experiences at Boyne Falls and we are grateful for that.”
In the Charlevoix Public Schools district, Superintendent Mike Ritter highlighted smaller class sizes, technology support, preschool programming support, curriculum and instructional supplies, and a math interventionist as his district’s biggest impacts from the Regional Enhancement Millage dollars.
“The Regional Enhancement Millage dollars have been a game-changer financially for our district, especially coming off a very difficult economic time back in 2017,” said Ritter.
Ritter explained that Charlevoix uses the REM funding to hire and retain staff so that class sizes are now considerably lower than in the past, allowing for more one-on-one interactions between staff and students. “Before the enhancement millage became part of our financial picture, our class sizes were larger due to fewer staff. With additional instructors, we’ve been able to offer class sizes now that average about 20-22 students per classroom. This provides a better learning environment for all students.”
District-wide, Ritter also noted a technology coordinator position funded with the REM provides support to all teachers at each building, and pay-to-play athletic fees were also eliminated for Charlevoix’s student-athletes.
Matt Stevenson, East Jordan Public Schools Superintendent, outlined numerous highlights from his district and pointed to two in particular that have had tremendous impact: Elementary staffing and free preschool (pictured at top of page).
“We have been able to provide free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-old students who sign up. This early investment has shown great responses not only with parents who are eager to get their children enrolled in school, but also the preparation level of these students entering kindergarten,” said Stevenson.
The investment in preschool has included staff, supplies, furniture, curriculum and playground equipment to properly outfit the budding preschool program.
“The ability to give our students a jump start on the learning process, for all parents, has been a proactive approach for not only these students’ learning trajectory, but it also levels the playing field for our kids by providing equity when it comes to early education,” Stevenson noted. “We are able to provide multiple options that meet the individual needs of our students, families, and our community.”
Similarly, increasing staffing levels has had a positive impact by reducing class sizes and allowing for an increase in offerings.
“Specifically, the district has added a STEM teacher and Outdoor/Garden Learning Coordinator to provide these options for our students. STEM classes are held in our newly developed STEM classroom, as well as on a ‘push in’ basis into the homeroom teachers’ classrooms,” Stevenson said. “Our Outdoor/Garden Learning Coordinator has integrated our new hoop house into our already productive garden area to provide a new learning environment that all students can engage in and enhance the classroom experience by extending the learning and integrating nature.”
Along with those points of pride, Stevenson said REM dollars have also assisted with facilities’ upgrades, such as roofing and parking lot repairs, athletic supplies, curriculum, and professional development.
“The Regional Enhancement Millage has been instrumental in allowing the district to continue to provide high-quality learning opportunities for our students in a time when districts are grossly underfunded,” Stevenson said. “With this added funding, EJPS has been able to provide increased opportunities for our students, much-needed materials for our classrooms, teachers, and athletic coaches, as well as provide support for our parents.”
Alanson Public School Superintendent Rachelle Cook said that the REM has allowed her district to bring back several programs that had been cut in previous years, while also providing resources for new initiatives.
Cook noted the REM dollars in Alanson have supported technology, curriculum updates, physical education teacher and program, hiring of a counselor, after-school clubs, and preschool. The long-dormant library was also reopened.
“After 10-plus years of our library being closed, we were able to hire a media specialist, reopen the library, as well as update the library with new books and furniture,” said Cook. “PE was also cut many years ago, and we were able to hire a K-12 PE teacher for the district. These are huge benefits to our students that we could not have accomplished without the Regional Enhancement Millage. We are so grateful to voters for their support.”
Teachers also received $1,500 stipends for classroom enhancements, such as materials for students, flexible seating, books/novels and field trips. “We wanted to give back to the teachers, because they each have ways they can enhance their classroom for the current year of students, and also future students,” Cook noted.
Harbor Springs has utilized its REM funding for establishing new and expanded programs throughout the district’s buildings, and also to fund school safety improvements, said Superintendent Brad Plackemeier.
In reviewing projects the enhancement millage has made possible in Harbor Springs, Plackemeier listed:
- Instructional positions: Elementary Interventionist, summer school staff
- Professional development
- Climate and culture survey
- Reading recovery program
- Building improvements, including updated phone system
- Transportation – bus purchase
- School safety equipment
“The Regional Enhancement Millage has allowed HSPS to fund an elementary interventionist and summer school positions. Students in these programs have benefitted from a proactive support structure aimed at bridging learning gaps,” said Plackemeier. “We have also been able to purchase a bus, upgrade school safety equipment, and update our district’s phone system.”
“The most important program in our school district is our preschool program. Students have the ability to receive an amazing education during these early years to start them off on a successful educational journey,” Seelye said. “Working parents and caregivers are able to support their families by having access to free child care. The Regional Enhancement Millage allows Pellston Public Schools to provide free preschool to all families, benefiting our students, school and community in countless ways.”
In this growing district, the REM has played a huge role in providing new and expanded opportunities for kids. Seelye cited:
- High school foreign language teacher
- New 3-year-old preschool classroom
- Transportation: New school buses, van
- Athletics: No athletic fees for students, new football field scoreboard, baseball/softball signage, football stadium renovations, track resurfacing
- Family nights food and supplies
- Funding robotics team
- School buildings: New classroom carpeting, auditorium sound and lighting improvements, playground equipment, K-12 library improvements
- K-12 music and band program brought back to district
“The power and impact that the Regional Enhancement Millage has had on Pellston Public Schools is extremely difficult to capture. Updating and renovation of our athletic facilities and auditorium, free preschool to all our families, and bringing back a K-12 music program to our district have had such an incredible impact on our students,” said Seelye. “The ability to purchase school buses, playground equipment, and a school van has allowed us to keep other funding in the classroom – touching all of our students and allowing our district to not just survive but thrive, even during a pandemic.”
Leslie categorized REM expenditures into five general categories that improve Petoskey’s learning environment:
- Curriculum and instructional supplies
- Professional development for staff
- Smaller class sizes
- Career and college readiness
- Athletics and extracurriculars
From those categories, he provided examples. Athletic participation fees were eliminated in the 2018-19 school year, allowing approx. 650 students to participate in sports each year without cost to families. Two additional middle school teachers helped reduce average class sizes. An additional counselor has helped reduce the number of students per counselor, while increasing interactions related to career and college readiness and post-secondary planning, as well as providing social and emotional support.
The Little Northmen Preschool was also established, providing 32 students access to high-quality preschool program led by highly qualified Petoskey teachers.
For Petoskey staff, the REM has also helped support professional development and curriculum alignments that ultimately benefit students in the classroom, Leslie noted.
“The Regional Enhancement Millage has provided the Public Schools of Petoskey much-needed revenue for programming that could not exist otherwise due to state funding restrictions,” said Leslie. “With the aid of this voter-approved funding source, PSP was able to eliminate ‘pay to play’ for extracurricular activities, increase the number of clubs, and implement additional affordable preschool options for our families. These funds have allowed us to increase our emphasis on trades and CTE programming, which will help our graduates obtain good paying jobs and stay in the Petoskey area.”
Char-Em ISD includes two school districts in northern Antrim County, Central Lake Public Schools and Ellsworth Community School. Their information follows:
In Central Lake, students are benefitting from the REM dollars through a revived music program, the addition of athletic and career tech offerings, and additional staff to help operations run smoothly, said Superintendent Monique Dean.
“The dollars provided by the REM have allowed this small district to provide curriculum support to our staff and provide additional offerings to our students,” said Dean.
Dean listed highlights of the REM expenditures, including:
- Part-time School Success Coordinator
- District-wide funding to support core curriculum purchases
- Early education literacy support for staff and students
- Partial funding for K-12 administration position
- Weight room remodel with new equipment
- Classroom teaching supplies
“We now offer powerlifting as a competitive sport and a course in fitness that utilizes the weight room. These programs directly impact the health and wellness of our students, and we are really excited about these new opportunities,” Dean said.
Aaron Gaffney, Superintendent of Ellsworth Community School, pointed to several areas in his district that have benefited from the Regional Enhancement Millage: Textbooks, K-12 principal, security monitoring services, and waiving of athletic fees.
All K-8 Ellsworth students now have yearly subscriptions to both print and online math curriculum access, Gaffney noted. Approximately 60 students per year are no longer required to pay athletic participation fees, and all students in pre-K through 12th have benefited from additional administrative support since the REM was approved.
“The Regional Enhancement Millage has allowed us to both maintain our current levels of academic support for students as well as add additional student supports,” Gaffney said. “Without the support of this millage, we would be forced to make deep cuts to programs and services, which would have a negative impact on our students.”
Looking back, looking ahead
District leaders are enthusiastic about the impact of the Regional Enhancement Millage on their ability to provide more opportunities for students, and so are some parents and community members.
Central Lake parent Joyce Persons said, “Being able to use the enhancement money to give kids the opportunity to participate in music classes again is a great use of the funds.”
East Jordan mom of four, Shannell Lapeer, has relied on the 3- and 4-year-old preschool programs offered in her district and lauds their availability.
“I think that providing free preschool is a great thing. All my kids have attended and I have seen a tremendous amount of growth in each,” said Lapeer. “My two youngest are twins and were premature, which put them behind the other kids a little bit. This year, they are in the 3-year-old preschool and are making huge gains.”
Lapeer said her children are well-prepared for kindergarten, thanks to the preschool program. “The requirements in kindergarten are so high compared to when I was in school that this really helps prepare them and get them ready for that step,” she added.
By the 10th year of the levy, the enhancement millage is expected to have generated at least $60 million for the 11 districts of Char-Em ISD.
“That is an incredible investment by our residents in the education of our residents in the education of our region’s youth,” said Seelye, the Pellston superintendent. “I know I speak for all our local administrators when I say ‘Thank you’ again to voters for supporting our schools with the enhancement millage.”