Park Hill SD hikes tax levy with little opposition

With very little fanfare, the Park Hill Board of Education last week unanimously voted to approve a 3-cent increase in the district tax levy, made possible by a drop in assessed valuation. Before the board discussed the levy increase — from $4.92 to $4.95 per $100 assessed value — they heard opinions from two citizens. Roxsen Koch said she believed the board had a track record of being good stewards of taxpayer money. “Park Hill is an essential investment in our children, our home values and our community,” Koch said. But fellow patron Bob Asher voiced a different opinion. “I do not understand why you’re going against the mandate of the April election,” Asher said before accusing the board of using this as an opportunity to circumvent the will of the public. On April 8, voters declined a 32-cent levy increase slated to fund the Future Learners Project (FLiP), designed to bring laptops to students from fifth through 12th grade and increase access to digital tools in the lower grades. A pilot program was implemented in 2013, and the district reported positive findings. The program was expanded to fifth graders, and this year, sixth graders will receive laptops with intent to continue the expansion to include seventh and eighth graders in 2015-16 and high school students in 2016-17. No funding for the program exists beyond the current school year. However, the tax levy increase approved Aug. 25 was based on an adjustment made to the district’s assessed valuation. Due to a decrease in the value of existing property as assessed by the Platte County Assessor, the district tax ceiling increased from $4.91 to $4.95 per $100 assessed valuation. This is in accordance with the Missouri Hancock Amendment, which mandates adjustments to the ceiling so taxing entities do not suffer or benefit unduly from changes to assessed valuation. “I understand it’s a balancing act between a lot of different pressures,” Park Hill superintendent Dr. Scott Springston told the board. Assistant superintendent Dr. Paul Kelly explained the Hancock Amendment and noted that despite the slight proposed increase this would be the 10th consecutive year the board set the levy below the voter-approved ceiling set in 2002. Park Hill’s levy still sits lower than other large Northland districts, with the North Kansas City School District levy at $6.51 and Liberty Public Schools at $6.45. Kelly also said that this is an annual adjustment, and was not a decision made in reaction to the April levy issue. Board member Janice Bolin said that state statute requires district to approve budgets in July, yet finalized assessed valuation numbers do not come in until mid-August, after the Board of Equalization rules on contested taxes. Additionally, a levy set this year will set a precedent for next year, as it is a non-assessment year, according to board member Todd Fane. “This isn’t really a new process,” Kelly said. “This is the ebb and flow of how Hancock is applied.” Springston said he believes it is equally irresponsible for the district to seek to tax their way out of a situation — such as the unfunded FLiP program — as it is to simply cut budgets. “Taxes are always hard, and they should be hard decisions,” Springston said. “This 3 cents could help us to meet emerging demands.” Board member Alison Wurst said she wanted the board and administration to be mindful of ways to save money and seek efficiency. To that end, after the meeting, treasurer Matt Pepper said there is more room for public input on the district’s efficiency task force and encouraged those interested to attend those public meetings.