News Story

Teachers Unions Gave $180,000+ To Misleading Macomb Tax Hike Campaign

Tuesday ballot proposal would cost property owners $55 million annually

A coalition of public school interests promoting a Macomb County school property tax hike have made exaggerations and unsupported claims in a social media campaign to get a "yes" vote on March 10.

Calling itself “Macomb for Kids,” the group is a ballot question committee registered with the Michigan Secretary of State elections bureau. It had raised more than $250,000 as of Feb. 23, of which at least $180,000 came from teachers unions, mostly local Macomb county unions.

The campaign finance committee's designated recordkeeper is Robert Callendar and its treasurer is Robert Ross. Callendar is president of the local teachers union at the Warren school district, Macomb county’s third largest. (This union local contributed at least $20,000 to the campaign). The chairman of the school board of Macomb County’s largest school district (Utica schools) is Robert Ross.

The so-called enhancement millage was placed on the March 10 ballot by the countywide Macomb Intermediate School District. It would add 1.9 mills to property tax bills and collect an additional $55 million a year from county property owners for 10 years.

Here are some of the group’s claims, and what state and federal data indicate:

Macomb for Kids stated: “While we are all chipping in to help pay for our schools, due to extreme fluctuations in state funding, the school portion of our property tax is woefully inadequate for the needs of our schools.”

Official data shows: “Extreme fluctuations in state funding” is an inaccurate portrayal of state funding since 2010-11. State dollars for K-12 funding have increased every year from 2011-12 to the current 2019-20 budget, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

For example, Utica Community Schools is the largest school in Macomb County. In the current year, its total state funding is $8,467 per pupil. That is up 11% percent over nine years from the inflation-adjusted 2010-11 amount, which was the equivalent of $7,643 in current dollars. The district enrolled 29,238 students this year, which is 2,608 fewer than in 2010-11. But it will still receive $30 million more in state funding this year than in 2010-11, not adjusted for inflation.

Macomb for Kids stated: “County schools, on the whole, are funded at an extremely low level compared to our neighboring counties including Oakland and Wayne and we are struggling to compete. We feel our students in Macomb County deserve the very best and this millage will put them on a more competitive playing field.”

Official data shows: Funding for Michigan’s K-12 schools comes from a combination of local, state and federal dollars. Here’s the breakdown for Macomb County in 2018-19:

Overall, Macomb’s public school districts received an average of $12,494 per pupil, composed of local, state and federal money. That is below the average for Oakland County schools ($13,999 per pupil) and Wayne County schools ($13,037 per pupil).

But Macomb’s public schools received more state dollars, on average, than Oakland’s public schools — $8,356 per pupil versus $8,281. And both amounts are less than the $9,114 per pupil average for Wayne County’s public schools.

Macomb for Kids has been running Facebook advertisements that make other claims without support or explanation. For example, the group has stated that the millage would curtail bullying within the district but doesn't say how that would occur.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.