Archived Story

LCISD mulls Headlee override

Published 8:55pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013

CASSOPOLIS — Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Board of Education is expected to place a half-mill Headlee Amendment override request on the Nov. 5 ballot, but no formal decision will be made until June.

“This is going to become a critical issue for us. We have to pursue this” despite an anticipated “uphill battle” because the alternative is billing local districts hundreds of thousands of dollars for special education services.

“Our special ed millage passed at 2.5 mills has been rolled back nearly a full half-mill. Every year, that amounts to over $700,000,” Supt. Robert Colby said. “We have a deficit budget now and had to borrow money for the first time ever this year to serve our cash-flow needs.

“As the service agency in Cass County, we have an obligation to do whatever we can to avoid billing our local school districts for services we provide, which are state and federally mandated. We don’t have the option of not providing them or scaling them back. We wouldn’t be in compliance. In a financial bind, our only option is to pass costs along to our locals, and we all know what their budgets look like. All we hear is cut, cut, cut, layoff, layoff, layoff. It’s painful. They can’t afford it.”

Colby said passing a Headlee override request would “stabilize our special education fund.”

The proposal would not appear on a May ballot to avoid conflict with a planned Marcellus Community Schools millage request.

“Quite honestly,” Colby said, “we need the support of our local school boards to make this fly. When you compare our special ed millage and per-pupil funding it generates, we operate pretty darn efficiently” compared to surrounding ISDs.

Colby said two issues looming on the horizon further make an override “critical.”

“One is the governor’s rewrite of the state aid bill gives serious thought to eliminating Section 81, which is state dollars which come to ISDs. That would be another $300,000 hit to our budget. Last month the governor signed personal property tax. The prospect for replacement revenue is not good. That likely will cost us an additional $200,000. Between those two things, you’re talking half a million dollars in a budget already in deficit.”

Colby estimated for board member Tom Atkinson, Dowagiac’s public safety director, such a request could cost $25 on a $100,000 home.


Casino revenue board

The LCISD is entering the interlocal agreement for a revenue sharing board being developed for Pokagon Band’s Four Winds Dowagiac gaming facility on M-51 South, approving Chief Financial Officer Laura Ash as its trustee, with Colby as her alternate.

“There were like seven of us at the table — Dowagiac schools, the library, the road commission,” she said. “Over the next few months we’ll be creating an agreement of how (money) is disbursed to us. We’re meeting Tuesday. We probably won’t see any funds until the 2013-14 school year.”

Simmons steps down

Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Board of Education Wednesday evening accepted with regret the resignation of member Ann Simmons.

Simmons, the retired Cass County clerk, served 7 1/2 years.

Supt. Robert Colby hopes to appoint her replacement in February.

That person needs to seek re-election in June.

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