The Park Hill School District tried not to waste any time getting out in front of its little snafu. Officials were quick to apologize and provide their own little spin for a Missouri Ethics Commission report citing them for a violation, even if that report has not officially made it onto the MEC website. I’ll go ahead and assume Park Hill doesn’t plan on apologizing for something that didn’t happen.
The background is fairly simple.
The Park Hill School District ran a failed campaign for a tax levy increase last year. Officials wanted to help fund a technology program, but the voters handily rejected the plan.
According to Park Hill’s own release at its own meeting, a complaint was filed concerning some “informational materials” that apparently crossed a little too far into the cheerleader department.
This is a no-no.
Because public taxes fund schools in Missouri, officials must avoid openly campaigning for its own proposals because technically they represent proponents and opponents alike. The problematic statement for Park Hill — again, according to its own release — was as follows: “In order to prepare our students for 21st-century college and careers, the Park Hill School District is asking voters to approve a levy increase on April 8.”
Park Hill superintendent Dr. Scott Springston was fined $100 for the transgression, according to the release. This is obviously a tough spot to be in for school districts.
I’m guessing that superintendents and boards of education don’t go around recommending tax increases unless they truly believe it's the right thing to do. This leaves them to provide information only to voters for issues they believe are beneficial for the students, teachers, the community and themselves.
Meanwhile, organized opposition can openly disseminate any type of propaganda — factual or not. So why are we still talking about this?
Well, the Platte County R-3 School District has filed with the board of elections for a capital project fund tax levy of $0.43 per $100 of assessed valuation set for the April ballot. This is proposed to fund a new elementary school and various other improvement/renovation projects throughout the district.
And boy do Platte County officials have organized opposition.
You can bet the opponents will be closely monitoring superintendent Dr. Mike Reik and the district’s literature and messages in the coming months. There were no shortage of complaints the last time around in 2013 when voters handily defeated a similar proposal.
Various accusations were made then, and I’d guess we will find at least a few complaints filed this time around regardless of what the district does.
Reik has said before that the organized opposition surprised the district last time around. Fool him twice? Well, that’s not going to happen.
But that doesn’t mean Reik and other officials don’t have a big challenge to overcome.
The information provided can lead a voter to the obvious need for additional funding to help deal with ongoing growth in the district and already existent overcrowding problems, but you can’t make them vote yes. This is especially true when there is a group that will provide all sorts of fancy numbers that may or not be factual to promote its cause of absolutely no new taxes.
That means the district could use its proponents to shell out a little money and do a little lifting on the promotional side if there’s any hope of this measure passing. For sure, it will be a tough sell because both sides have very valid reasons for their cause.
Nobody likes taxes. That’s not a hard concept.
However, it takes a really strong mind to look at Reik and believe he is simply lying to the public for undefined reasons. The Platte County school district has the third lowest current tax levy in Platte, Clay and Jackson counties. So while an increase sounds painful, you are doing better than most of your neighbors and still would be if this proposal passes.
North Platte patrons currently pay a higher rate, and I find that astounding.
The fact remains. Platte County patrons can shoot down this proposal, and it’s a distinct possibility that happens. However, I’d urge voters to remember one fact I’ve harped on before.
Your money will be spent by the district no matter what you choose.
Your choice will determine if you believe Reik has a fiscally responsible project in mind with an eye on the future or if you would rather the district keep spending money on patchwork fixes for a much larger problem.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.