Janet Stark took the first opportunity to ask questions, and she certainly won’t be the last. The Platte County R-3 patron addressed the board of education last week with the first of what’s likely many inquiries about plans to seek a tax increase in April, 2015 to help address what officials see as continuing problems caused by increased enrollment.Growth management is the professional title they give to dealing with the issues.
I took tours of Barry School and Platte County High School in recent weeks to familiarize myself with two of the main buildings struggling to keep up with an ever-growing student population. With a capital fund lease tax estimated at up to 50 cents (but likely lower) per $100 of assessed valuation set to go before voters, I want to make sure I’m informed as possible about situation.
Stark wants that kind of information, too.
“I know we have a $35 million budget, and patrons deserve to know what is being put toward a project before asking for more money,” she said in part while addressing the board for about 3 minutes. “And then, as of the board meeting last month, I noticed all of a sudden a lease purchase was brought up. I want to know how or when or where that was decided.”
Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik understands the concerns when dealing with such a complicated issue.
However, officials see a growing need to deal with overcrowding and inefficiencies in a seven-building alignment, created over time as the district grew from rural to suburban. 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, the same alignment as the proposed new building.
Reik said during the board meeting that he expects to have a final number on the exact tax proposal very soon. Results from a survey sent out to patrons should be available soon to help guide the discussion with open forums planned for Oct. 30 and Nov. 13 at Platte County’s District Education Center.
Both will begin at 6 p.m.
“Just a few little details to tuck away, to get (the number) final,” Reik said. “We do have a survey out in the field right now to find out how patrons feel about what we’re proposing and how they feel about paying for it.”
The paying for it portion seems like the toughest sell.
While tax increases sound expensive, Reik noted during our recent tour of the high school that trying to save up cash reserves for large expenditures, like constructing a new building, can cost more due to the continuing escalated costs for building materials. That leaves general obligation (GO) or lease bonds as the best options for locking in current prices.
While (GO) provides a cheaper route, two factors make the leasing purchase attractive to Platte County officials.
Currently, the school owes on nearly $60 million of general obligation debt and can only bond about $18 million more due to restrictions. That number would fall well short of the likely proposal for this project. Reik wants to continue paying down the GO debt and hopes future growth will allow the district to ask for a no-increase proposal at some point the future with that bonding capacity.
In addition, lease bonds require only a simple majority of voters, while a GO ballot measure would require a 57.14 percent or 4/7 super majority.
Voters turned down a proposed 60-cent increase to the operating levy in the spring of 2012, which further delayed what officials see as necessary adjustments. To help change the outlook, the new proposal will also include a 20-year sunset clause with the prior measure an indefinite hike.
The growing sentiment seems to be that something — anything — must be done.
The high school continues to use auxiliary classrooms, trailers located out back, and lunch shifts in the south cafeteria have spilled into the gymnasium. That’s right. Tarps are put down on the gym floor and tables wheeled into that area to accommodate food service.
The main gymnasium can’t even hold all of the students in the bleachers, a problem not common to other suburban districts.
That’s just the high school. We haven’t even touched on the maze at Barry School that left me disoriented and simultaneously impressed there wasn’t more chaos in the hallways.
Rising Star is an isolated, outdated building not worthy of renovation and hearing about bus staging required to transport students to and from its location makes me cringe with the thought of wasted fuel.
Platte County’s maximum tax levy voters approved in 1982 is $4.82. Currently, the district operates at $4.5983, an amazing thought that with all of the inflation in that past three-plus decades officials have managed to avoid coming close to that maximum.
In fact, only Smithville and West Platte have a lower tax rate among schools in the Kansas City metro area. There’s a lot of facts to be found on this tax proposal and hopefully they continue to receive attention as questions mount in the coming months.
I know I’ll continue to do my best to seek out specifics and present them back to you, the readers.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Citizen_Ross.