3/30/23: FFE tightens its belt

Thursday, March 30, 2023

High 50°/Low 44° Partly sunny

Stock market slump means diminishing returns and potential pause in Foundation for Excellence’s aspirational project spending. Also: Portage Public Schools has to reschedule graduation date for religious rights violation, court says. And a young Kalamazoo High School graduate killed by gunfire last August is honored with scholarship in her name. The first recipient wants to make her proud.

News You Need To Know

Market decline leads to potential pause in extra FFE spending

The Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence is considering a pause in spending in 2024 on “aspirational projects,” one of three purposes of the six-year-old fund created to plug a gap in city finances and reduce property taxes. The fund, which started with a nearly $100 million endowment that was then given $40 million a year for 10 years by anonymous local donors in 2021, draws its annual spending allocation from interest earned in the stock market. FFE leaders say it had a 20% decrease in returns last year.

The fund currently has $160 million, $42 million less than earlier projections, which is leading staff to recommend to the FFE’s governing board to temporarily zero-out the aspirational projects. These have typically included projects for youth development, economic development, and infrastructure. Final spending decisions are made by the Kalamazoo City Commission, which in the past has stuck with FFE board recommendations.

Jeanne Hess, one of three city commissioners on the board, said she was concerned about a cut in aspirational project funding, but “to dip into the principal would not be responsible or appropriate for the long-term health.” Hess said the board’s responsibility is to prioritize the property tax breaks and to make sure the city’s annual budget is balanced.

Steve Brown, FFE’s executive director, said between 2017 and 2021 the FFE has spent $34.6 million in aspirational projects in the city. The FFE allocated $5.4 million in aspirational projects in 2023, $4.5 million to fill a city budget gap, and $13.9 million to subsidize property tax breaks. FFE staff will recommend no aspirational funds for 2024, $4.7 million for the city budget, and $14.1 million to cover property taxes. A city spokesperson said the city will maintain its same budgeting process and, regardless of FFE decisions, will use remaining state and federal stimulus money, grants, and existing city funding mechanisms for any additional spending the commission deems a priority. [MLive]

Circuit Court orders Portage schools to change graduation date

The 9th Circuit Court of Kalamazoo County on Wednesday ordered Portage Public Schools to change its 2023 graduation date from May 26 because it conflicted with a religious holiday. The emergency motion was granted two days after a lawsuit filed by a Portage Northern High School senior, alleging discrimination under Michigan’s Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act.

May 26 is the day that the Jewish holiday of Shavuot falls on the Gregorian calendar. It marks both the giving of the Torah after Jews fled Egypt and the first grain harvest of the year, both seen as marking a covenant with God. [WWMT]

Kalamazoo Central gives first scholarship in memory of slain alumna

Only eight months after Naya Reynolds was killed when someone shot the car she was riding in in Portage, Kalamazoo Central High School gave out the first scholarship in her honor. The Naya J. Reynolds Scholarship’s goal is to support young women’s aspirations. Reynolds, who was 22, was a beloved member of the cheerleading team prior to graduation. “In honor of Naya Reynolds’s passing, we wanted to honor and celebrate her life and have a legacy for her,” said Kalamazoo Central Head Cheerleading Coach Deveta Gardner.

Gardner said the coaches created the scholarship because of the impact Reynolds had on the people around her. It’s given to seniors on the cheer team. Kierra Gaddie won the inaugural $1,000 award and says she’s deciding between Michigan State University and Howard University. “What I want to do with my major is be a doctor, but also advocate for equality in healthcare,” she said. “And so putting those two together, I think, really honors what she stands for.” Another memorial award, called the Naya J. Reynolds Forever 22 Scholarship and started by Reynolds’ family, will be given out in June. Any woman graduating from the school will qualify. [FOX17]

Things To Do In Kalamazoo

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Item Swap – Climate Emergency Month/WMU Sangren Hall
10:00AM 3/30

Michael Méndez, Presentation and Panel – Climate Emergency Month/Virtual
4:00PM 3/30

Satsang w/ Graham Good – Bell’s Eccentric Cafe
7:00PM 3/30

The Gilmore: Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Chenery Auditorium
7:30PM 3/30

2023 Student Sustainability Summit – Climate Emergency Month/WMU Office for Sustainability
1:00PM 3/31

Music with Steve Kamerling – Brick + Brine
6:00PM 3/31

Dave Johnson – The Distant Whistle Brewhouse
6:00PM 3/31

Kalamazoo Numismatic Club Coin Show – Kalamazoo County Expo Center
9:00AM 4/1

Edible Book Festival 2023 – Kalamazoo Book Arts Center
2:30PM 4/1

3 of a Kind – Hilton Garden Inn
7:00PM 4/1

Breakin’ Ballet presents Rock Your Soul: Live Music and Dance – Bell’s Eccentric Cafe
8:00PM 4/1

Keith Hall Trio – Hub Tavern & Grill


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