Platte County R-3 starts process of seeking new tax levy

The Platte County R-3 School District hopes lessons learned can help push through a tax increase officials see as desperately needed. Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik made a preliminary presentation on a potential April ballot measure during last week’s regular Platte County Board of Education meeting. He estimated a capital fund levy tax estimated at up to 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for property owners in the district to help solve overcrowding and inefficiencies in a current seven-building alignment.

Initial plans call for the closing of Rising Star Elementary (a kindergarten-only facility in Platte City), annexation of Paxton School to become part of the high school, renovations and additions to Pathfinder Elementary in the southern part of the district and a second elementary school to be built off of Fourth Street with eventual access to Kentucky Avenue. Siegrist Elementary would be converted from serving first through third grades to K-5, along with the proposed new building.

In the spring of 2012, voters handily defeated — 56 percent against — a similar proposal, but the new proposal contains important differences.

“Kicking expansion down the road is only going to compromise our service, eventually,” he said. “If I were to budget for construction of exactly what we were going to construct in 2012, the cost would be substantially higher today than they were projected to be in 2012, and that’s just the reality.”

Platte County’s enrollment continues to increase with an estimated 3,911 students for 2014-15, up from 3,788 in 2013-14. An official count will be available later this month, although the number will continue to fluctuate throughout the school year.

Enrollment continues to follow a low trend line from a 2010 study PCR-3 commissioned and updated projections remain on the same path, taking the district past the 4,000 student mark as early as 2015-16.

Only two buildings — Rising Star and Siegrist — are set to operate under functional capacity, while Platte County as a whole has an aggregate surplus of 217 students over the recommended number. Trends would indicate the problem will continue to worsen.

“I think we would like our projections to be accurate,” Reik said, “and we do base some of our planning off of our projections. I don’t want to overplay our projections either because they are limited. No one can tell the future. “

The district plans to keep the item on the board of education agenda in the following months, while potentially adding work sessions for the board of education to wrangle with a comprehensive plan. Reik also proposed open forums for patrons to express opinions and recommendations.

A formal ballot measure must be presented to the board of elections no later than January.

“Depending on what you want to see, we can develop Plan B, Plan C, Plan D — contingency plans — if we are unsuccessful or we feel like it’s not advisable to seek the capital project I have overviewed,” Reik told the board.

Depending on the project, Platte County hopes to lower the tax increase from the previous proposal and include a sunset clause with Reik’s initial estimate at between 38 and 50 cents. In 2012, Platte County asked for a 60-cent increase to the district’s operating levy to run indefinitely.

Reik acknowledged that a separate operating levy increase could be sought in the future if the need arises, but he hopes a recent uptick in assessed valuation in district property helps to offset potential added costs that come with an increase in buildings. Changing the north campus’ elementary schools to K-5 and altering the grade structure for Pathfinder Elementary and Barry Middle School could help create more efficiency by reducing required staff positions currently spread across multiple buildings like secretaries, lunchroom personnel and nurses.

In addition, transportation staging currently required to service the buildings could be reduced to further save money.

The district has also decided to eliminate auxiliary projects like parking lots, athletic facilities and preventative maintenance from the current proposal. Officials plan to focus simply on the overcrowding issue at this time.

“In a perfect world, you want your tax base and your enrollment growth to coincide,” Reik said. “If that happens, then you are able to organically fund new facilities by that growth in the tax base without a tax levy increase.

“(We) are dealing with a math problem as a district right now.”

Reik stressed that capacity issues will not go away, and construction costs are projected to increase. That’s why he wants to undertake a larger project now in hopes of avoiding a number of smaller “quick fixes” that will cost more in the long run.

An October 2013 survey showed patrons were strongly in favor of a new elementary school (55 percent), while a smaller majority agreed with the idea of closing Rising Star (37 percent agreed, 18 percent disagreed, remaining didn’t know or were neutral). Reik recommended that further spending on the building unjustifiable.

A hypothetical cost-analysis estimate showed that operating Rising Star as a wing to an existing building could save the district between $180,000 and $250,000 a year.

A study estimated that a 5- to 7-year renovation of the current structure would cost about $583,000 while the district could hope to sell the building and property for between $405,000 and $540,000. The land alone could fetch between $377,000 and $440,000 — less $30,000 for demolition. A full renovation of the building would cost about $7.2 million, while a brand new facility with similar dimensions could be built for an estimated $6.9 million.

While that situation comes with a definitive cost, the proposed annexation of Paxton School into the high school would only bring it back to capacity in 2016-17, when the district expects to be able to occupy its new spaces pending voter approval, if the current projections remain accurate.

“If you don’t do that, we’ve got to do something,” board member Gary Brown said.