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School building project: Tax impact, borrowing in a recession, busing and other issues

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eastwood Elementary School is one of the four buildings built the 1920s that district officials say no longer adequately serve students and teachers. The Marshall school board decided Tuesday, Aug. 18, to place a bond issue on the November ballot in attempt to get voter permission to finance a new building that would house grades two through five, eliminating the need to use three of the older buildings.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles about a proposed building project in the Marshall Public School District. The Board of Education decided Tuesday, Aug. 18, to place a bond issue on the November ballot to finance the project. Readers have posed a number of questions and concerns in discussion forums on The Marshall Democrat-News Web site, and this series will provide responses from school officials.

Tax impact?
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."

More busing?
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."

Noah agreed:

"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 ..."

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Gall66...I wish i knew. Closer to the center of town in my opinion would be the perfect place but of course there doesn't seem to be any land there to support a new school. Alot of kids ride their bikes or walk to school now just like alot of us did back in the day so west of 65hwy or north of 240 would be out of course. I just feel that there will be a large amount of traffic being that close to 65hwy. People should know that the city could reduce the speed limit, build sidewalks but kids that age are still going to be thinking like kids and not pay great attention to the hazards of traffic and possibly get hurt, because adults still dont obey the traffic laws around school zones now, I know....

-- Posted by glock123 on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 4:39 PM

I am sure that if we were to build a school big enough for K-8 we would be looking at borrowing close to $100,000,000. Would that make you feel better about a new elementary school, probably not.

As for raising our taxes, it has to be done for a good school. The Board has also said that they would let the citizens know how much this would impact everyone.

I don't have kids, but I live and own a house here in Marshall and I will be voting yes for a new school.

-- Posted by snorkel on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 11:28 AM

As I read the information provided each day about the new school, I can still not see the benefit of this amount of money. First off the location as stated by another reader is terrible. It was asked about the cost of bussing, no real response was provided. With the price of fuel going up each day it will definately be and issue in a couple years. I know we need new school buildings but the planning is not there. To bad our past board members didn't see far enough ahead to buy all the ground between vest and college, and miami and 65 when they purchased the high school ground. This would have been an amazing school complex when completed with all grades in one location.

The next issue I see is the amount of money being asked for to only house three grades. I beleive if better planning is done they could come up with a building to house all of the elementry level childern, and maybe even the middle school, we all know that building is done for.

The other issue I see is their decision not to allow input untill after the bond is on the ballot, bad Idea you will get alot of no votes just because you chose to go this route. People want and need to be involved in this issue. Its our money you are asking for and Marhsall has alot of retirees on fixed incomes and this increase is a factor to alot of them. You need to provide information and more information if you want this to work.

Our community needs these schools for our childern and grand childern and if you include all of us and make smart decisions to include all childern you will get what you ask for.

Thanks for listening

-- Posted by drop555 on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 9:54 AM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
The proposed new school will house four grades (2-5). The architect has informed the board that its bonding capacity will not allow it to borrow enough money to build a structure large enough to house more grades than that.

glock123 if that is such a bad location then where do you think a good location is?

-- Posted by Gal66 on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 10:45 PM

I agree we need new schools but putting this new school at the site proposed seems like a very bad choice. There is a LOT of traffic, cars and semi's that use south odell off of 65 hwy.

-- Posted by glock123 on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 8:05 PM

Our kids are our greatest resource and it is our responsibility to see that they get the best education that we can provide. People, we need this school! Our kids are attending classes in old buildings with lead pipes and asbestos hazards, and sitting in classes with their coats on to keep warm. They have to go outside to the trailers for some classes.

We pulled together to update our hospital, lets pull together to build a new school. We don't want our kids to be a patient in our newly updated hospital because they became sick from being exposed to adverse conditions in our outdated schools.

And no, I do not have kids in school and at my age, I will not ever have any kids to utlize the new school. But, and this is from a purely selfish view point, the better educated our kids become, the better chance they will have to become successful and earn the resources to continue the growth of our fine community.

Yes, I am a property owner and will consider the increase in my property taxes if this issue passes as an investment in my future.

Come, on Marshall, lets do this for the kids!

-- Posted by Red Witch on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 1:03 PM

good job marshall school board, this is your job and your decision, you don't need to wait on the citizens of this town to have a meeting and decise what is best for the school district. the people of this town elected you to do just that, you already have this ability. as for a tax hike, compared to what the federal goverment is going to do to us shortly the 56 cents on a 100 is pretty reasonable to have a new school for kids to go to for an education. and if this will fix the mess that is your transportation system then that decides my vote, which waas already yes to begin with. my sons first day of summer school he was on the bus for two hours, unacceptable. and if i remember right the people of this town bought into ron otts plan to build a cancer center and donated money in a recession, is this not as noble as a cause? and i bet when we see the plan and hear the speel on the school, when its done it will look like what they said, and as far as sentimental value of a building you maybe spent 27 months in tops over a 3 year span? please, please get over yourself, go talk to a minister or a therapist and LET IT GO, that is by far the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard. don't abandon a building i love so that a child can go to school in a well heated or cooled safe building. please. and am i sensing a little negativity towards this project from the democrat already?

-- Posted by thisguy on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 8:37 AM

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