Pontiac schools leader talks about millage now that gag order is lifted

PONTIAC, Mich. (WXYZ) - It is a situation 7 Action News first exposed. On the last day of session before Christmas break, late at night in Lansing, lawmakers added 41 pages to an election law bill. It passed in the dark. Experts and the public never got a chance to weigh in. 

In those added pages was language that restricted the communication of  employees of public bodies, such as libraries, museums, and schools. It banned employees from talking ballot proposals on the radio, on television, or by mass mailing or robocall within 60 days of an election.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed it into law 62 days before the Pontiac School District’s millage on March 8. When he signed it, he said he didn’t agree with the communication issues and has been promised they will be addressed in the future by legislators. None the less, with his signature the entire law went into effect.

“We didn’t know what to do,” said Superintendent Kelley Williams. “We didn’t want to break any laws.”

Pontiac Superintendent Kelley Williams felt relief when Judge John Corbett O’Meara ruled the law cannot be enforced for now, because it may be illegal. The court is going to rule on it.

"Our backs are against the wall now because we are running out of money,” said Williams.

Williams then agreed to do something that would have been illegal if not for the judge’s ruling. She communicated about the millage by television. She showed us why she believes it is needed by arranging for us to have a tour of  Pontiac High School.

“Most of this stuff is about 60 years old,” said Facilities Director Robert Englund as he showed us the heating system in the high school.

The boiler system needs to be replaced. The thermostat system doesn’t work. When parts of the building get too hot, boiler operators have to manually adjust valves. 

There have been times when the heat is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the school. Some classrooms have been abandoned for now, because they are consistently too hot. Students and teachers had to move to other parts of the building.  Replacing the boiler system at just Pontiac High School will cost more than $6 million.

“If it is too hot or too cold it is very hard for them to learn,” said Englund.

He also showed us issues with roofs, old windows, leaks, flooring, and doors.

“At the bottom a lot are rusted out and rodents get in,” said Conway Thompson, the Chief Security Officer at Pontiac High School of many exterior doors.

7 Action News knocked on the doors of homes where we saw signs protesting the millages, but found no one willing to talk on camera. Many opposed to the millage are in wealthier neighborhoods in suburban communities around the city. Some don’t want to be a part of the Pontiac School District at all. They want to see the district dissolved, and kids in Pontiac Schools sent to other school districts.

Williams says the district is making academic and financial progress under a consent agreement with the state.  The agreement provides oversight to make sure money is spent wisely. She says if the millages aren’t approved the district won’t have the money it needs to ensure buildings are safe and up-to-code.

There are two millages on the ballot.

One is a non-homestead millage renewal to continue to fund school supplies and operations needs.  It would keep tax rates where they are for landlords and businesses. It doesn’t impact tax rates for your primary residence. 

The other is a sinking fund millage. School leaders say Pontiac is the only Oakland County school district without a sinking fund millage.  It hasn’t had one since 1991. It would raise money for building maintenance. It would cost the owner of a 100 thousand dollar home about $140 a year. 

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