On May 3, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District will ask county voters to increase the special education tax from 3.9 to 5.4 mills. If approved, it will cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 an additional $150 a year and raise $22 million a year for the next ten years.
WISD superintendent Scott Menzel says the increase is needed because while the number of students receiving special ed services continues to rise, “the federal government never lived up to its commitment” to support them financially. Though Congress authorized funding up to 40 percent of special ed costs, Menzel says, it currently provides just 9 percent of the county’s $121 million special ed budget.
“We get $57 million from the current [WISD] millage and $40 million from the federal and state governments,” explains WISD board president Diane Hockett. “The $24 million shortfall is being picked up by the local districts.”
The millage would close the gap, allowing local districts to return the money to their general funds. For the Ann Arbor Public Schools, approval would save $9.4 million a year–a rare respite for a budget mauled by state cuts. Superintendent Jeanice Swift emails that the WISD millage would be “a ‘game-changer’ for the AAPS … We have very few levers remaining where we can exercise local control–this is an opportunity to generate local dollars that do not go to Lansing for redistribution.”