Wayne Co. Schools’ $80 Million Annual Tax Hike Won’t Cover Pensions

Backers promise more teachers and smaller classes, but filling pension hole is the reality

The Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency is seeking voter approval of a property tax increase for school operations. As part of its pitch for the question that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, the government office distributed a campaign flier that stated: “A recent study has confirmed that districts across Wayne County have been drastically underfunded by the state in recent years.”

The proposed 2 mill tax increase would, if approved, extract $80 million from county property owners in the first year alone. It would be levied for six years, beginning this year.

ForTheRecord says: Michigan Capitol Confidential examined 31 public school districts within the Wayne County RESA – not including the Detroit district which received a state bailout earlier this year. Those 31 districts received a combined $114.4 million more in state dollars in 2015-16 than four years earlier, despite having 5,995 fewer students in 2015-16. The average amount of state funding per student in those 31 districts went from $6,902 in 2010-11 to $7,863 in 2015-16.

If those districts are feeling “underfunded” it’s not because taxpayers are sending them less money, but because an underfunded school employee pension system is absorbing an ever greater proportion of their revenue.

Michigan Capitol Confidential also examined the growing burden the state-run Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) is placing on the five largest school districts within the Wayne RESA.

Dearborn: MPSERS payments went from $19.4 million in 2011 to $25.6 million in 2015.

Plymouth-Canton: MPSERS payments went from $17.9 million in 2011 to $29.1 million in 2015.

Livonia: MPSERS payments went from $12.2 million in 2011 to $20.5 million in 2015.

Wayne-Westland: MPSERS payments went from $9.1 million in 2011 to $14.9 million in 2015.

Grosse Pointe: MPSERS payments went from $6.9 million in 2011 to $16.5 million in 2015.

In four years, these five school districts have seen their combined pension expenses increase from $65.5 million in 2011 to $106.6 million in 2015. That’s an extra $41 million over four years, a 63 percent rise.

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