Platte County R-3 officials need to get message to hard-to-reach targets

Platte County R-3 officials must continue talking to those outside the room. Last week, the district held its second of three scheduled open forums to discuss a proposed capital project fund tax levy. There were fewer at this one than the first, but citizens have continued to offer input on how to best shape this project before it goes in front of voters in April of 2015.

The last one is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 24 at Pathfinder Elementary.

Yet, sitting in on these discussions, it’s painfully obvious that most in the room are supporters of Platte County’s growth management plan. What’s going on outside the room might provide a bigger indicator of the challenge ahead.

The most recent election provides a nice starter.

For the second time in three years, voters in the Smithville R-1 district rejected a proposed tax hike to deal with its overcrowding issues. More than 54 percent said no to a proposed 79-cent-per-$100-of-assessed valuation hike in property tax. The number against the proposal goes up to nearly 61 percent for votes cast by Platte County residents who live in the Smithville district. Take that second number however you want.

Park Hill’s bid to receive more money for technology failed last spring. Platte County saw a similar proposal fail itself in 2012. The tolerance for tax increases right now in this area is very low right now.

“Not only am I a taxpayer, but I’m the guy who has to go around talking about this,” Platte County superintendent Mike Reik said on the unfavorable reality of the current process.

Granted, Platte County’s current proposal greatly differs from any of the recent failures. Reik estimated the likely increase at 40 to 45 cents, much less than Smithville and much lower than the last failed ballot measure he took to voters in April of 2012. Platte County added a 20-year sunset clause — Smithville’s was 25 — and removed the perceived distractors, added items some voters saw as luxuries rather than necessities.

Reik touts the “bricks and mortar” approach to this try, and he clearly understands the need to swing a good portion of detractors.

That starts outside the open forums with district patrons who do not have children or grandchildren in the Platte County school system. Reik wants to remind them of a belief he shares with others in education that good schools create good citizens, which benefits everyone.

Successfully conveying that message remains perhaps the biggest obstacle out there.

Reik has an obligation to remain fiscally responsible with taxpayer money, but he probably can’t maximize that effort without some approval. Money will be spent to deal with the overcrowding, and growth remains inevitable by any measure.

The modest growth in assessed valuation provides some level in confidence that future capital projects can be achieved with a no-increase approach.

However, the prospects remain staggering. Reik said last week that the district will likely need a much more expensive project in the future to build a second high school, and the master plan already fell behind with the 2012 failure.

Platte County retains one of the lowest tax levies in the Kansas City area — only Smithville and West Platte are lower — and that position wouldn’t change much even with the proposed hike.

“I like the fact our tax levy is low. I’m not telling you it needs to be higher,” Reik said before catching himself and continuing. “Well, I am because we need to build buildings. I’m not thrilled about it being higher. I like paying low taxes just like you guys do.”

Money will be spent in the coming years in an attempt to provide an environment conducive to learning.

Voters might want to consider both avenues of for future spending. Pouring more money in an aging Rising Star Elementary, more temporary classrooms outside of buildings and more inefficient setup for transportation. Or take a hit now and trust a long-range plan that hopes to be funded with future growth that can provide the revenue needed without additional taxes.

Your money. Just decide how you want the dollars spent.


I ran out of room to discuss this last week, but Platte County High School hosted a couple of Veterans Day events on Nov. 11.

The second resurrected a tradition with a big assist from principal Dr. Chad Sayre, who decided to make an afternoon salute honoring local military family a priority. Admittedly, the program came together quickly, but district officials plan to make this an annual tradition with more forethought in future years. They want all veterans and active military in the surrounding communities to feel welcome and to help grow the event.

The first rendition was a rousing success.

Platte County opened its parking lot by parking students behind the middle school and running shuttles. They put down chairs on the gymnasium floor for the honored guests and packed more than a thousand attentive students into its gymnasium to hear important messages.

The Platte County High School Traditions Band performed the branch song for the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines to great effect, and later, Christopher Barngrover — a senior — and assistant band director Dr. Matt Bonsignore played a distinguished version of Taps.

In between, Maj. Jared W. Britz spoke to the students about why they should care about Veterans Day, and Lt. Col. Candy Smith gave a wonderful speech during an emotionally moving Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Remembrance Ceremony. There were some obvious tears shed as she described the aspects of an empty tablesetting and how it related to those members of military currently unaccounted for and those past with undefined fates.

A great effort was made to connect with the vast military community in Platte County and hopefully this continues in the future with more veterans aware of the high-class effort made to give them a chance to be honored in a public setting.

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.