Dissolved Buena Vista School Debt Lifted from Taxpayers’ Shoulders

State Sen. Ken Horn and State Rep. Vanessa Guerra

Debt from the former Buena Vista School District has been taken up by the state, giving township taxpayers some relief. The legislation, introduced by State Senator Ken Horn, takes a $660,000 burden from Buena Vista Township, which was saddled with the debt when the school district was dissolved in 2013. It will go into effect October 1.

State Representative Vanessa Guerra, who worked with Horn on the bill, says finding a solution was not an easy process.

“In the beginning it was really hard because he had to deal with his colleagues and I had to deal with mine, trying to explain to them all the technicalities of why this was so needed. And sometimes that can be lost on legislators, especially when it’s not a school district or community within their own district.”

Buena Vista Township Supervisor Dwayne Parker says the assets from the dissolved district, like the buildings, properties and equipment, were simply given away when the district was dissolved. He says things might have been different if they hadn’t.

“We probably wouldn’t be here today if we had those assets to sell in the beginning, to handle our particular debt.”

While the state will take on the debt, only one piece of a larger puzzle has been solved. Three school districts, the Bridgeport-Spaulding District, Saginaw Public Schools and Frankenmuth Schools received Buena Vista’s students and assets. An 18 mill, non-homestead property tax, used to fund the district has expired and hasn’t been implemented in the Saginaw or Bridgeport-Spaulding districts. Buena Vista voters twice rejected the millage, once in 2014 and once in 2015.

Saginaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Kathie Stewart says the state has been filling in the gap for those districts, but if the Buena Vista school properties aren’t transferred for tax purposes, those districts will lose funding.

“What’s at risk is if the state assumes that both districts are receiving the non-homestead revenue and deduct that amount from their state aid payment… those two school districts would see that much less in revenue.”

Saginaw Public School would lose about $1.2 million dollars and Bridgeport-Spaulding would lose around $300,000. Voters in Frankenmuth have already passed the millage, providing about $100,000 for that school district.

Horn and Guerra are working on solutions for that issue. In the meantime, however, Horn says a bill State Representative Tim Kelly is working on will prevent giving away a district’s assets in case of a dissolution. He says it would compliment his bill, negating the need to bail out that district.

“If my bill and Tim Kelly’s bill pair up and we pass it, we’ll never have to pass one of those appropriations bills again to cover those kinds of costs. Some communities should take that building willingly and be able to do something with it. Repurpose it, knock it down at their expense, something.”

Parker says he’s optimistic with the debt gone but more work needs to be done. He says he’d like to see some type of school system come back to the community.

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