Platte County R-3's adjusted tax levy proposal set for next week's ballot

Platte County R-3 School District officials insist they have listened to patron concerns and adjusted the proposal accordingly, while critics continue to question the financial responsibility of a new growth management plan. Whose message wins out will determine the fate of a proposed 43-cent per $100 of assessed valuation capital project tax fund levy set for the general municipal election ballot Tuesday, April 7. The district drastically modified its proposal this time around, lowering the increase despite a project with a price tag of $29 million to deal with continued overcrowding

In the spring of 2012, voters handily defeated — 56 percent against — a similar proposal from Platte County that called for a 60-cent tax increase. Park Hill and Smithville voters have also failed levy proposals in the past year.

The district will need a simple majority to pass the measure.

“Basically, this is what it boils down to,” Platte County superintendent Mike Reik said. “The issue was identifying a way to provide adequate space, not excessive space — adequate space — to have optimal learning environments for a growing student population that is also in an age-appropriate grade configuration and improves operating efficiency.”

Indeed, the new proposal does not ask for additional tax money for operating cost and includes a 20-year sunset clause.

The final proposed construction project calls 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 in Platte City with eventual access to Kentucky Avenue. Siegrist Elementary would be converted from serving first through third grades to K-5, the same configuration as the proposed second elementary building.

The organized opposition questions the size of the project, while the district believes current growth studies show the capacity issues will only grow with time, requiring action now to avoid future funding issues.

According to a commissioned study, Platte County’s buildings are an aggregate 196 students over functional capacity this school year — up almost 100 from 2013-14. Only two buildings remain under functional capacity with total enrollment expected to top 4,000 next year, according to trends and a study of expected residential growth inside the district’s borders.

“Different times call for different measures,” Reik said. “All I can tell you is we’ve done our homework to try and determine what’s going to happen in the future here in the Platte County School District and to do a piecemeal or Band-Aid approach does not seem appropriate.”

The district opted not to seek a general obligation bond measure and instead seek the lease purchase plan, which comes with a slightly higher interest cost.

Currently, the GO bond capacity could pay for only $18 million of the project, and Reik said the district plans to continue to pay that debt down, knowing it will likely be needed in the future to fund more construction projects to accommodate continued growth in student population. However, interest rates are low, which makes the decision to go forward with the plan even more prudent, according to Reik.

Among school districts in Platte, Clay and Jackson counties, only North Platte, West Platte and Smithville have a lower tax levy than Platte County.

The proposed increase would bring R-3’s total to $5.0289 per $100 of assessed valuation. The cost to the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 of value — not fair market price — would pay an additional $82 per year. Homes are assessed at a value lower than what it would expect to sell for on the open market.