For want of a horse the rider was lost.
That line is part of an old saying that illustrates how small factors may have great consequences.
"For want of a debt service levy new schools were lost" doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily, but it seems an apt description of the recent history of the Marshall school board's efforts to get permission to build new schools.
While the Marshall school board has heeded public opinion and made a number of adjustments to its plans to remedy problems with the district's elementary schools, one hurdle it cannot remove is the fact that it will have to raise taxes in order to address the physical problems of aging schools -- overcrowding, poorly functioning heat and air conditioning systems, damage from water seepage and more.
And for some critics of the school bond issues since 2000, that's a deal-breaker. Especially since the economy went sour late in 2008 and has yet to fully recover, critics point out that this is a bad time to hike taxes.
Superintendent Craig Noah acknowledges that the anti-tax-hike objection is one that is almost inevitable.
"There's probably never a time when everybody's going to say, 'Yeah, I've got extra money,'" for a tax hike, he said.
During a number of public meetings about the bond issue last fall and again in January, Wayne Crawford, chairman of Citizens for the School Bond, expressed frustration at the fact that bond issues have failed at the polls repeatedly since 2000.
"If you look around us, people are building new schools," Crawford said. "People are doing what's needed for the education system."
And he noted that the Marshall community has been generous in recent years, supporting a variety of building projects. Citizens helped raise money for a new cancer center and a community center/museum. Voters have approved sales tax measures to support the Saline County Justice Facility, the parks system, an enhanced 911 system and the county health department.
"Schools for kids? Can't get in the ballpark. Our community supports everything but the schools," he said.
There are certainly a number of reasons for each bond issue failure, but there is one common factor in each: Marshall is one of relatively few districts in the state that has no debt service levy in place.
During public meetings Noah said he believes it's been about a decade since the district had a debt service levy, which is a property tax collected specifically for the purpose of paying off debt incurred for capital expenses, like renovating buildings or constructing new ones.
With federal economic stimulus money available to help reduce the interest costs of school building bonds, 38 districts put bond issues on the ballot in November, including Marshall, according to a Missouri School Board Association report provided by Mike Parnell, MSBA director of education funding.
Of the 38 bond issues, 34 passed, most of them by sizeable margins.
After cross-referencing the MSBA list with a Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education list of school district tax rates, it appears that of the 34 successful districts, only two did not have debt service levies in place prior to the election.
Of the four districts that did not succeed in getting voter approval for bond issues, three did not have debt service levies in place.
The statistics support a common sense assessment. If districts have to raise taxes to pay back bonds, issues will have a tougher time at the polls. If money can be borrowed without raising taxes, voters find it easier to give their blessing.
Noah explained that not having a debt service levy limits the district's ability to care properly for its facilities.
"Our levy is all operating, so the money we generate pays for teacher salaries, buys buses ... computers, etc.," he said.
Big-ticket capital expenditures have to be made, he said, with or without the ability to borrow money to pay for them, and the money comes out of the general fund or reserves. And some of those big projects are very big. Noah estimates repairs to Bueker Middle School's roof may exceed $300,000.
With a debt service levy in place, the district would have a better chance of getting voter approval for selling bonds to finance construction or renovation projects, he said.
"You're not going to pay more taxes, you're going to pay the same amount of taxes longer," he said. "Your tax bill won't change but you'll have to new building or renovate one. Usually once you get it, you keep it. Most (districts) have it."
For members of the community who see the school facility situation as desperate and getting worse, there is more at stake than one new school. Once a debt service levy is re-established, getting money to build future new schools and renovating existing facilities will still be tough, but not as tough.