This page is published each and every week to convey the opinions of not only the regular and occasional columnists you find here, but also those of our readers. We want to hear what you have to say.
So, most of the time when I get a letter to the editor, I confirm the identity of the person sending it, make sure the letter doesn’t contain any profanity, swipe it with my editor’s brush to make it all pretty and print it on this page. Notice how I said most of the time.
Sometimes I receive letters from folks that I just can’t — or won’t —print. The reasons for that vary.
Some letter writers can’t understand why I don’t print anonymous letters. Others think it’s OK to call people names or make fun of their appearance and give me a hard time because I don’t.
And then there’s the case of a letter I received recently from Kirby Holden, a Platte County R-3 School District patron who has spent a lot of his time the past year or so criticizing the Platte County R-3 School District.
As you may recall, a few weeks back I wrote a report on an R-3 Citizens Advisory Committee (of which Holden is a member) meeting. Included in that report was a paragraph or two about a Web site Holden created and posted online recently entitled plattecountyr3facts.com.
The name of the site struck me as odd. It would be like me creating a Web site about local law enforcement and calling it plattecitypolicedepartmentfacts.com.
Get my point? I’m not an expert on law enforcement or the PCPD so maybe a better name would be plattecitypolicedepartmentstuffIfindinteresting.com.
Anyway, the next week after my story was published, Holden sent me a letter to the editor via email that more or less accuses the R-3 administration of intentionally misleading patrons about the District’s financial and other matters. It was sent late Monday afternoon and I didn’t get much of chance to look at it until midday Tuesday. We go to press Tuesday evening, so I sent Holden a return-email telling him that I had not had time to review his letter and it would not run that week.
After looking at the letter more closely a few days later, I realized that it contained a lot of information, allegations and accusations that I was not about to print without trying to at least verify them or find out where they had come from. In addition, the letter was a rambling 957 words, way longer than most of the letters we print.
Anyway, over the past 10 days or so I have made calls and sent emails to various folks and dialed up Web sites, trying to gather some insight/info about a few of the more interesting assertions in the letter.
To be honest, I have probably not spent as much time on this as the letter’s author would have liked. The fact is that I have had many more pressing issues to spend my time on recently. And I had already given his Web site some free publicity.
But, like I said before, I value the opinions of our readers. That said, while Holden’s letter offers more allegation than opinion, I appreciate the time he spent on it and the passion that led him to create the Web site. I respect those who step forward and put their name on the dotted line.
So, Holden’s letter will appear uncut and unedited this week on The Platte County Citizen’s Facebook page. I think that’s a good spot for it and we will see what kind of responses it generates.
In this space, I will print a few excerpts from the letter — also unedited — that caught my eye and what I found out about them.
Here’s the first:
As you know from being there at the Citizens Advisory Council Meeting Greg Bricker from George K Baum attended and let the participants know that Dr. Reik had been giving out the wrong information on how many schools have an AA bond rating or better due to his supplying the wrong information to the district. Dr. Reik and the District have been reporting that "only 15 schools have as good as or a better rating than the Platte County R-3 school district." Mr. Bricker confirmed at the meeting that Schools that use the Missouri Direct Deposit program all have a better rating than Platte R-3. than the AA rating Platte County currently has. So instead of 15 districts having the same or better rating as the district has told us the number is actually over 350 (out of about 520).
After talking with some public education financial folks who know way more than I do about such things — including Bricker, who has given financial advice and consultation to dozens of school districts such as Platte County, Liberty and Blue Springs for decades — here’s a little more info about the R-3 bond rating, which is AA. There are two ratings higher, AA+ and AAA. School districts across the state have the option of applying for a credit rating based on the strength of their own financial merits. They can obtain these ratings — called an underlying rating — primarily through two credit ratings services: Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s.
Approximately 150 districts across the state have applied for this underlying rating, primarily because they have a strong financial/credit history. There are 22 of those districts that have a AA rating or higher, including Platte County. Bricker acknowledged that the 15 figure stated earlier was two years old.
The Missouri Direct Deposit program does allow those districts that participate in it — approximately 315 — to obtain a AA+ rating, which in turn allows them to obtain a lower interest rate on their bond indebtedness.
That would be worth it, were the interest rates markedly different between the AA and AA+ rating, but they aren’t. I have been told that the difference between the two rates is “5/100ths of one percent, if that.”
Also, to participate in the state program, districts have to agree to let the state take a portion of its bond payments out of the district’s state funding payments early in the year. Because school districts do not collect revenues from tax levies until December or early the following year, this means that districts could suffer a cash flow interruption by allowing the state to, in essence, hold its money for months.
In light of that, Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in almost all cases it’s better for school districts that have earned an underlying AA rating on their own to not participate in the state program. He said that most — but not all — districts participating in the state program could not realistically achieve a AA rating on their own.
Both Lankford and Bricker said that the fact that R-3 does have an underlying AA credit rating is a reflection on its financial strength and stability.
On to the second:
....the amount a taxpayer pays to support his district not only comes from the local levy but also from several sources including the sales tax that sends money back to the districts under Proposition C. Our current Tax Ceiling is 3.8903 with the .9600 debt service added in it takes our Unadjusted Tax rate to 4.8503 with 4.5288 being our Adjusted tax rate this is the number the district puts on its literature. This is complicated but as a taxpayer you are currently paying more than the 4.52 levy reported by the district in taxes to support your district, that is if you ever purchase anything in the state of Missouri.
Despite a statement to the contrary reported as “fact” at plattecountyr3facts.com, R-3’s property tax levy is $4.52 per $100 of assessed valuation. A quick check of your tax statement issued by the County will confirm that. The assertion that we pay more taxes than that to support the District is technically correct, but it should be viewed through this lens: it’s not taxation indigenous to the R-3 School District, but a statewide mechanism used by the state to fund public education.
Purchases in the state are levied a one-cent sales tax used to fund public education. That money is put into one big pot and distributed to districts each year based not on how much sales tax revenue is collected within the district, but based on the amount of students enrolled in that district.
Obviously this is done to prevent districts located in wealthier, more concentrated retail areas from garnering a disproportionate share of the revenues. So, an R-3 patron can be assured that all of that one-cent education sales tax they pay does not get returned to the district’s coffers.
In fact, Lankford, told me it did not make sense to look at education sales tax revenues in the same light as property tax levy revenues. Lankford also told me that “there’s no way to accurately calculate a concrete figure.”
I also talked to R-3 Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik about much of this and he helped clarify some info that seemed a bit murky to me. His comment for this piece was: "The District has not and will not purposefully disseminate incorrect or misleading information. We have publicly acknowledged through our Comprehensive School Improvement Plan the fact that we have many reasons to celebrate and many opportunities to improve. We invite any patron to participate in our efforts to get better."
Thanks for reading and have a great Memorial Day weekend.
Lee Stubbs is owner/editor of The Citizen. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 858-5154. Follow him on Twitter @leejstubbs.