At the board meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, the board decided to ask voters for permission to borrow $20 million for 20 years. The debt service levy will be 80 cents per $100 assessed valuation. Superintendent Craig Noah said the district would be rolling back its annual property tax levy about 24 cents, so the net tax increase is expected to be about 56 cents.
Noah said not only would the district publish information to help all taxpayers figure out what the tax impact of the bond issue would be, but will help individual tax payers figure out what the project will cost them.
"We'll put together for our community ... not only how much per year but how much per month you'll have to pay," Noah said. "You can bring your tax bills in. We'll figure it for them. We'd be happy to do that."
Another question on some voters' minds is whether placing a new school on the south edge of town will increase transportation requirements and costs.
Noah said the increase in the number of students eligible for busing probably wouldn't increase dramatically, but he said because it's impossible to predict how many parents will choose to drive their children to school, he can't give a specific number.
What he does expect is a transportation system that is more efficient than the current one.
"It would be a huge cleaning up of our current system. You'd still run the same number of routes. You're still hauling about the same number of students, but you wouldn't have the shuttles that we currently run during the day," he said.
No townhall meetings?
Several people commented on the MDN Web site that it appeared district officials had made up their minds about the bond issue and the project design before asking for input from community members.
Noah said a committee of community members would be formed once the bond issue has been formally placed on the ballot. The committee's role will be to "tell us how you communicate to the public what we're doing."
But prior to any public meetings for the current bond issue, Noah and school board President Larry Godsey have reviewed public feedback during previous campaigns, and they say voters then had several clear messages for the board.
"What we've come up with as a plan are things that were issues that were brought up in the last three tries," Godsey said.
People expressed a strong desire for neighborhood-type schools, he said.
"That's why we want to use Benton and Northwest as neighborhood K-2 schools," Godsey said.
And feedback indicated people objected to locating new schools on the north side of town. The proposed location for a new school this time will be on South Odell Avenue between intersection with U.S. Highway 65 and Stone Hedge Country Club.
Past that, there's always uncertainties to face when presenting a bond issue to voters, he said.
"You hear a lot of different things. We're trying to feel our way through trial and error," he said. "You know we need new school buildings, but what is it you want? We did hear loud and clear 'neighborhood schools' and we did hear loud and clear that they don't want north of town."
And he said he welcomes voters' views on the project.
"They can call my house and tell me. I'll answer the phone," he said.
Raise taxes in a recession?
Perhaps one of the most common complaints about the proposed bond issue is the timing. While the effects of recession have been milder in mid-Missouri than in many other places, the current economic downturn has voters nervous about a tax hike.
But school officials counter that the recession may be a factor in making this a good time to act.
"This is the time now with this stimulus money," Godsey said. "You won't ever have a time in history when it will cost you so little (to borrow money).
"The cost of building buildings is continually increasing but our ability to borrow money is not." Godsey noted that earlier plans had called for two new elementary schools to be built.
"The cost of construction has gone up so much that we're only looking at building one building now," he said. "If we wait 10 years we might be saying let's hope we add on to a building that's falling down so we can have a few more classrooms. So now is the time to step out and do this."
"It's the first time in the history of the world that Missouri gives away free money to building buildings," he said. "It's never happened before. If you wait five or 10 years we might not be able to do anything at all."
Aside from government incentives, Godsey said the project could have a positive impact on the local economy.
"It's a large project in our community that's going to involve businesses in our community," he said. "It's not like the money will be leaving our community. It'll be recirculated in our community. Economically speaking, the best thing you can do during a low economic time is create more jobs and add infrastructure."
Noah noted that in discussions with architects and construction managers, district officials have stressed the importance of making the project accessible to local contractors by using locally produced materials when possible and dividing jobs into manageable chunks.
"That's a true stimulus right there," Noah said. "It's not stimulus to build a building, but if you can create work for local companies, that's a stimulus."
Noah also noted that the current economic situation might change by the time taxpayers have to begin paying for the project.
"If this thing passes in November 2009, it's going to be December of 2012 before anybody starts paying," he said. "Who knows what the economy's going to be like in 2 1/2 years?"
Noah also ticked off several area school districts where voters approved building projects recently, including new elementary schools in Boonville and Sweet Springs and a new high school in Sedalia.
Fate of older buildings?
The building design approved by the board would mean three of the district's four existing elementary schools would no longer be used as classroom buildings.
Noah said the question of what to do with those buildings remains to be addressed, but he pledged to have plans in place soon.
While the district could put the buildings to other uses, like storage or maintenance facilities, Godsey suggested he was skeptical about their usefulness.
"I know that (the buildings) have a lot of sentimental value for a lot of people in the community. That's a tough thing to decide what to do with them," he said. "But the fact of the matter is, we really can't afford to heat and cool them and that's why we're trying to get out of them. If somebody else wants to find a use for them ..."