GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In less than two weeks, voters will choose whether the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ bond issue for school improvement passes. It’s the first to hit the ballot since 2004.
Tuesday night, an automated robocall against this proposed tax surfaced, but GRPS officials said the call is using false information. Wednesday the district fired back.
Americans for Prosperity-Michigan funded the robocalls. Last week, Mike Farage, leader of the political action committee Grand Rapids School Taxpayer Association, said he reached out to AFP for help. On Oct. 1, Farage register the committee with the Kent County Clerk’s elections division.
The automated call runs one minute. This is the first part of the recording:
“On November 3rd, bureaucrats with the Grand Rapids School District want to sneak a huge property tax hike past voters like you. This tax hike will cost the average Grand Rapids homeowner an estimated $4,000 over the life of the bond.”
The call goes on to say higher taxes have not helped students in the past:
“In 2004 they raised taxes by $165 million. Yet graduation rates and reading rates still didn’t improve. Now they want to raise taxes again.”
GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said the calls are a blatant attack on the bond issue that is wrong. “There are no words to say how deeply saddened I am about those robocalls last night," said Neal. "They are misleading."
If passed, the bond would raise $175 million for school improvement, security, and technology in every school, with a focus on GRPS high schools.
Neal said if passed, the bond would cost the average homeowner, based on a $100,000 home, about $8.58 per month. That totals about $2,500 over 25 years, the life of a standard bond.
Farage's numbers differ from Neal's. “The bond yield fluctuates. This could be an astronomical tax increase, realistically," he said. "An awful lot of homes in Grand Rapids are well over $100,000, especially if you look at this morning's selling prices.”
“These are our kids, this is our future. Grand Rapids Public Schools are failing our kids," said Farage. "They're failing the teachers, and they're failing our community, period. This is just a failed administration, period.”
But Neal stands firm that the district's transformation plan is working.
“Our graduation rates are up, our test scores are up. Dual enrollment, attendance, our bond rating, everything we said we’d do we’ve done," she said. "Don’t let these outside people tell us what to do with our kids, because it’s not about taxes, it is not about taxes. It is not about taxes. We need to do the right thing, continue to do the right thing, invest in these children.”
If you are wondering who the “outsiders” are that Neal is referring to, they are the billionaire Koch brothers, who have a track record of throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns that don’t line up with their conservative values. The conservative political PAC is now taking on public schools and unions. The Kochs have a history of funding Americans for Prosperity.