Data View: Voting Data in Pontiac School District
(Kurt Metzger, Feb. 23, 2016)
Pontiac, MI – The Pontiac School District (PSD) includes all or part of Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Sylvan Lake, Lake Angelus, and the townships of Bloomfield, West Bloomfield, Waterford and Orion. Declining birth rates and population out-migration from Pontiac have combined with schools of choice and charter school legislation to drive significant declines in district enrollment. Between the 2002-03 and 2014-15 school years, K-12 enrollment in the district has decreased by 62 percent, falling from 11,142 to 4,250 students. As district enrollment has dropped, the number of district children enrolled elsewhere (charters within Pontiac but not affiliated with the district, other public school districts, etc.) has increased. The most recent data for 2014-15 account for over 6,300 district resident children attending non-Pontiac School District schools – representing one and a half times those attending PSD schools.
With these facts as background, the Pontiac School District is going to district voters with a tax proposal on March 8 of this year. The proposal is similar to proposals voted down in both May and August of last year – a 2.87 mill Sinking Fund tax levy on residences that is specifically designed for addressing building and renovation projects. While the district promotes the critical need for passage, other resident groups, such as the non-profit organization Communities Acting for Responsible Education (C.A.R.E.) are actively opposing the tax. Based on election results from last year, passage will be extremely difficult and will require a strong turnout from supporters who live in Pontiac. It is clear that the vast majority of district children living outside the city do not attend district schools. It is also obvious that non-Pontiac residents do not feel a close tie between the viability of their public school system and their property values. Let us look at the election facts.
In May 2015, the tax was voted down by a relatively large margin of 3,401 Yes to 4,938 No. While both city and non-city voters came out on the No side, there was a great deal of difference in the margin of the vote. Pontiac city registered voters, who outnumbered non-city registered voters 2.7:1, voted 50.6 percent against the issue, while non-city district voters came in at 73.0 percent against the measure.
While the district learned that they had a problem with both groups, it was clear that they had a better chance of turning city voters to their side. However, there was also the issue of voter turnout to contend with. The 2.7:1 registered voter advantage fell to 1.6:1 in actual votes, as city voters turned out at a rate of 11.5 percent while the turnout for non-city voters was 26.0 percent.[i]
With these lessons learned in mind, the Pontiac School District went back to the voters in August 2015, a month of historically low voter turnout often used to push ballot measures through, with the same proposal. While the total vote was much lower, and the margin was much smaller, the result was the same. The tax was voted down by the slim margin of 2,634 Yes to 2,750 No. This time Pontiac city registered voters outnumbered non-city registered voters 3.6:1[ii] and voted 65.5 percent in favor of the issue. Non-city district voters came in at 79.2 percent against the measure. While sheer numbers should have given an advantage to Yes, voter turnout truly was the key to swinging it the other way. Only 7.6 percent of Pontiac city registered voters showed up at the polls, again outnumbering non-city voters, but only by a margin of only 1.7:1, as their voter turnout came in at 16.2 percent.
Recent history is certainly not on the side of the Pontiac School District. There is no doubt that district voters outside the city of Pontiac will be energized by groups such as C.A.R.E. to come out and vote No. I would predict that a 25 percent turnout should not be difficult to achieve. The question will be whether the district can achieve a 20 – 25 percent turnout of Pontiac voters and maintain a 65 percent or better support ratio. I will be watching with great interest.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the proposals themselves, and the history of funding in the Pontiac School District, go to https://oaklandcounty115.com/2016/02/23/the-history-and-future-of-funding-pontiac-schools-video/.
 Voter turnout is based on the number of actual voters in an election compared to the number of registered voters for that jurisdiction. Voter registration lists tend to be inflated because of the regulations that make culling those lists, of people no longer living in the jurisdiction, so difficult.
 While the number of registered voters in the City of Pontiac fell by 69 between the May and August elections, the number of registered voters in the remainder of the district fell by 4,071 or 24.8 percent. A request has been made to the Oakland County Clerk for an explanation.
Kurt Metzger is the Mayor of Pleasant Ridge and the founder of Data Driven Detroit. Metzger has provided insights into voter turnout for several elections.
Data View: Voting Data in Pontiac School District