by Stephanie Eaton
Not this year.
When Election Day arrives in Platte County in April, voters will not have to determine the fate of a tax levy increase for the Platte County R-3 School District.
On Tuesday night, the R-3 school board met for a growth management work session to discuss when they wish to bring before voters the idea of an increase in the district's tax levy for the construction of a new elementary school and upgrades to other educational facilities.
“The scenarios we are looking at are going to the voters in 2014 or going to the voters in April 2015,” Superintendent Mike Reik told the school board.
On April 3, 2012, voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot question that would have increased the district's tax levy. It failed with 1,835 voters opposed to 1,486 in favor
The 2012 Capital Plan consisted of a new elementary school in Platte City, an addition to Pathfinder Elementary School, faculty planning centers, a parking lot and bus corral expansion, replacing and expanding tennis courts, security enhancements, technology infrastructure improvements, general maintenance to the facilities and system upgrades to reduce energy consumption.
The proposed 2014 Capital Plan only consists of adding a new elementary school in Platte City and an addition to Pathfinder Elementary School. The 2012 Capital Plan estimated project costs were $21 million. The proposed 2014 Capital Plan has estimated project cost of $22 million.
Reik said school officials presented voters with an online survey following the 2012 election. He said the survey allowed voters to explain why they voted no in 2012.
During the December board of education meeting, Reik said the economy was the main reason given for ‘no’ votes.
During the growth work session, Reik said the economy was one of the main reasons he supported waiting another year before bringing it to the voters.
“The economy is not still fully recovered,” Reik said.
“There is a fair amount of trepidation out there. The Affordable Care Act and its rollout and some of the unknowns. Again, I am reading into this but I am looking at a public who has been historically supportive of their school district and been willing to pay for quality, but I am a little nervous about the state of the economy and a little nervous about things coming up here. And while they say, 'Yeah, you are growing and yeah that sounds like a reasonable plan,' paying for it is problematic,” Reik said Tuesday night.
“Can I tell you that we are going to be in a better position in 2015? No. If I had to guess when we were going to be in a better position --2014 or 2015--I would guess 2015,” Reik said to the board.
Reik said he believes that the community is supportive of assisting the school system in dealing with growth management.
“The public is fairly supportive of the major concept of managing our growth or the construction projects,” Reik said. “Generally speaking, there is a favorable amount of support around each of those. It is not what we are doing. It is the cost of what we are doing.”
Although the school district is facing population growth issues, Reik said there are interim growth management policies in place to help with growing pains during the 2014-2015 school year. He said school officials will “eliminate fixed computer labs to provide more classroom space, have art teachers mobile and utilize their current classrooms as additional classroom space and provide a five day rotation for specials.”
Lenora Miles, board member, questioned what the school system planned to do with Rising Star Elementary.
“We need to keep Rising Star going as long as we do not have another solution or another place for the kids in that building,” Reik said. “I think we look at annual appropriations to try to put the minimal amount of money in that facility as we possibly can while keeping it safe and keeping the educational programming reasonably commensurate with what children in other parts of the district are receiving,” Reik said.
“We just get it by the next few years until we have a solution. What that means exactly in terms of annual appropriations I do not know. Every year we will try to determine what it is that we need to do to keep it going and we will do that. How much that is and how much you are willing to appropriate to that end--those will be annual discussions,” the superintendent added.
Reik said the school system does have an emergency scenario in place to relocate in case there is a major maintenance issue at Rising Star that would cost the district a heavy price tag or would close the school for a period of time. The scenario would relocate the students. Reik said he hoped to not have to use the emergency scenarios.
“I do not think that is the best thing to do if we can get Rising Star to serve us for a couple more years. But I think we need to get prepared for the worst case scenario,” he said.
Reik said the school system cannot be successful in managing the growth of the county's schools without the support of the public. Reik said by waiting to bring the topic of school growth to the voters until 2015, it will allow school officials to get more information out to the public so voters can make an informed decision on the topic.
“We need the public,” Reik said “We cannot do this alone without their support.”