MAISD special education proposal in the hands of voters

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 9:57 pm on Friday, May 02, 2014

Mandy Branderhorst, a school nurse at the Seiter Education Center, left, works with special education students Shane Durfee, center, and Rylee Hoover, right, Friday morning. — Daily News/Cory Smith

The Montcalm Area Intermediate School District millage vote on Tuesday may say “special education” on the ballot, but the issue affects all children in Montcalm County.

Tuesday’s proposal will ask voters whether to restore the MAISD’s special ed millage — currently 2.1878 mills — to 2.50, as well as add another mill for a total of 3.50 mills.

If approved, the millage would generate about $2.6 million, which would allow the MAISD to continue to offer free special ed services to the more than 1,700 special ed students in Montcalm County’s seven school districts. A total of $800,000 of that $2.6 million would go directly to the seven school districts, including Carson City-Crystal, Central Montcalm, Greenville, Lakeview, Montabella, Tri County and Vestaburg schools.

The rest of the funds would be used to support MAISD special ed services, including the William J. Seiter Education Service Center in Greenville, a special ed school that provides programs, services and eventual job placements to disabled people from infancy through age 26. Some of the funds would also go toward the MAISD’s special ed transportation service, a costly expense as MAISD buses regularly make trips throughout the entire county on a daily basis.

If the millage fails, the MAISD will not be able to sustain offering free special ed services to local schools and will have to start billing the school districts. Also, local schools will be forced to make cuts to their own general ed programs, since special ed programs and services are mandated by state and federal law and therefore cannot be eliminated.

Tim Dugan, a teacher at the Seiter Education Center, left, works together with special education student Jacon Acton, right, to properly use a paper shredder Friday morning. — Daily News/Cory Smith

“This millage is about all the children in Montcalm County, not just those with special needs,” said MAISD Superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht. “If successful, these funds will allow the MAISD to continue providing services free of charge to children with disabilities within our local school districts, thus protecting the general fund budgets of the schools.”

The last time voters approved increasing the special ed millage was 26 years ago in 1988. Since that time, the population of children with disabilities has tripled in Montcalm County. In Michigan, special ed services are mandatory and must be provided for special ed students from birth to age 26, regardless of the cost.

The MAISD has made more than $2.5 million in budget cuts over the last seven years and reduced its own workforce by 22 percent, going from 270 employees to 207, mostly through attrition. Today, the MAISD is the lowest special education debt levying intermediate school district in its seven-county region.

“The current level of school funding does not cover the current cost of special education services,” summarized MAISD Associate Superintendent of Special Education Kathleen Flynn.

If approved Tuesday, the millage would cost a homeowner with a $50,000 home, which has a taxable value of $25,000, a total of $32.81 per year; a homeowner with a $100,000 home, which has a taxable value of $50,000, a total of $65.61 per year; or a homeowner who owns a $200,000 home, which has a taxable value of $100,000, a total of $131.22 per year.

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