R-3, Citizens group faces daunting task

School District wants public input as it mulls placing tax increase back on ballot this year or next

“We have a long road ahead of us,” R-3 Citizens Advisory Committee co-chairman Chad Sayre said Monday night.

And that, in a nutshell, seems like an apt assessment of the challenge not only that group, but the Platte County R-3 School District, faces in addressing projected enrollment growth.

Almost 11 months have passed since the Platte County R-3 School District’s 61-cent tax levy increase proposal was shot down by District voters. Since that rejection, R-3 officials have taken their time assessing why the issue failed and what direction the District needs to move in to address projected growth.

First, they sent out surveys last summer aimed at identifying reasons why patrons voted against the tax levy increase, which failed by a 53-47 percent margin at the polls. District officials said the top reason listed by patrons was the poor economy. Other reasons included a lack of a sunset on the tax increase and poor communication between the District and voters.

Armed with that information and still looking at school buildings at capacity and more enrollment growth projected, the District facilitated the formation of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). Comprised of various District patrons, parents, and business and community leaders who both supported and voted against the tax increase, the CAC first met in September, followed by three more monthly meetings. The group exchanged ideas and opinions before breaking for the holidays.

On Monday night, the CAC met again to enter into what they called Phase II, in which the CAC will formulate a recommendation to the R-3 Board of Education about how to handle the projected growth. This recommendation — which the group has tentatively set a May deadline for making — will likely include when and how to place the tax levy increase back on a ballot, possibly in November of this year or April of 2014.

At Monday night’s meeting at the R-3 Central Office in Platte City, the roughly 15-person CAC was welcomed by co-chairs Sayre and Devon Bradley, who reiterated the CAC’s mission.

“Our goal is this: to help the Board of Education get where they want to be,” Sayre said.

Up next was a State of the District presentation from R-3 Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik, which was prefaced by a statement from Rick Noble, of the District’s hired consulting firm Patron Insight.

“Anytime you have a bond issue that fails, it’s a sign that the School District and patrons are not as connected as you would like,” Noble said.

Reik said his presentation was a “30,000-feet flyover” designed to arm the CAC with not only basic information about the District, but also financial and long-range planning information. He also stressed that the CAC was not a “campaign committee.”

“We will get to a campaign committee later,” he said. “For this group, I just want to make you aware of where the District is and where we think we need to go. Then, you can talk to your circle of friends and contacts and hopefully use all of this information to determine a recommendation for the Board of Education.”