By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – Southgate Community Schools Supt. Sharon Irvine spoke during the Aug. 17 City Council meeting to explain the need for the 1.9 mill school district sinking fund proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.
A sinking fund supplies a steady stream of tax revenue over a defined period of time to provide money for property repair and replacement, school security equipment and instructional technology, and is different from a bond in that there is no interest to pay.
The school district passed a bond in 2020, but by law, it cannot be used to repair school assets, whereas a sinking fund can be used for that purpose.
The 2020 school bond and the proposed sinking fund are part of the school district’s long-term plan.
The proposed 1.9 mill sinking fund would raise about $1.6 million annually for a 10-year period and would let the district improve, repair or replace parking lots, roofs and mechanical infrastructure, as well as provide air conditioning, security upgrades, technology for students and teachers and preventative maintenance which can forestall the need for expensive replacement.
Irvine said she feels gifted and blessed to be charged with the care of Southgate’s children.
“My philosophy has always been ‘strong cities make strong schools, and strong schools make strong cities,’” she said. “We are spending a lot of time rebuilding our Southgate Titan identity so that the boundaries of Southgate are strong and so that the children in the community have a strong education.”
Irvine said the proposed sinking fund is intended to provide the school district with fiscal responsibility over time, so there is a steady stream of revenue that lets the district maintain its investments at a pace that prevents the need for large scale renovations or rebuilding in the future.
“All of you had a chance to see what happened over the last 10 years when the district had to make decisions like deferring maintenance or paying employees,” she said. “You saw what happened to our schools – what they looked like, and the disrepair that many of our facilities fell into.”
Irvine said the district does not want to see that happen again.
“The next time we can go to a no tax increase bond is not until 2029,” she said. “Which means that the first opportunity that we have to address the Heinzen building will not be until 2029 unless we pass a sinking fund.”
Irvine said if the sinking fund millage is approved, the demolition of the former Heinzen Elementary School will be the district’s first project, as well as other eyesores in the school district, like the tennis courts at Gerisch Middle School, also known as the Beacon Day Treatment Center.
“We also want to get on cycles of restoration for our Chromebooks,” she said. “We have a one-to-one, and we provide every student in our school district technology, but you can only imagine how long a Chromebook in the hands of a sixth-grader lasts – it does not last long.”
Irvine said the school district needs to establish a cycle to replace Chromebooks.
“Our intent is to make sure that we continue to provide the Southgate community with facilities that can make it proud,” she said. “We’ve added playgrounds that add to the play structure and play opportunities for our community.”
She said they are excited about the possibility of establishing a sinking fund.
“This is the next step to being fiscally prudent for our taxpayers,” she said.
A sinking fund also would provide money for safety and security improvements, such as physical classroom door barriers and alert systems in school buildings, and frees up general fund dollars for student, extracurricular and athletic programming.
Other local school districts, including Gibraltar, Lincoln Park, Riverview Community, Woodhaven-Brownstown and Wyandotte have established sinking funds.