Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Concerns of proposed school tax levy

Friday, March 21, 2014

Editor's note: I have made a correction to this submitted letter involving the percentages for Missouri Standardized Achievement Test. -- Rachel Knight, Editor

For the past several months, the Marshall Board of Education and administration have worked toward the goal of making a new elementary school building a reality. Part of this effort has been to identify concerns that could make passing an increase in the tax levy difficult. To assist in this endeavor, the board selected members of the district to serve as an advisory committee. This committee met a number of times with representatives of the firms the board had selected to provide financial advice and a tentative design for the proposed building. At the first public meeting of the advisory committee, a list of concerns was reviewed as well as a preliminary building plan.

Mistrust of the school board was item number one on this list of concerns. Another issue presented at the first public meeting of the advisory committee and, in my opinion, should be the chief focus of the district. This issue involved the extremely low student test scores on recent Missouri Standardized Achievement Test. The rankings of our junior high and high schools are unacceptable for a district of our size. When our junior high school ranks below 83 percent of the junior high schools in the state, and our high school ranks below 89 percent of all other high schools in the state, it becomes evident our district has a greater need than a new school building. I am not sure how our rankings came to light, but I feel confident that it is not likely our ranks will be publicized a year from now whether the levy increase passes or fails.

It is true that all the patrons of our district want what is best for our kids and it seems to me that the best education possible is more important than a new school building. The $1.50 increase in our levy will be consumed by the cost of construction and equipping the new building and improvements at the junior high and high school. It may be concluded that any funds that may be needed during for the upkeep of the new building and existing facilities will have to come from the current levy. Considering this and the fact that staff salaries have not kept up with the cost of living for the past several years suggest that high teacher turnover may continue and retaining quality staff and recruiting quality candidates may not receive the attention necessary to build strong educational systems.

When the question how upkeep of the new building, other district needs and competitive salaries will be financed, the response has been that it is hoped such cost can be paid for with revenue from increased assessed valuation and from the state formula being fully funded. History shows that the current and past state formulas have never been fully funded. When the state formula is not fully funded, school districts do not get the money promised and as a result they must rely upon local reserves or cut programs. In my opinion, any increase in the levy should be used to provide improved educational programs for our students. This is what is best for our students at this time and for their future.

One last thought: I am a little uneasy with the district attempting to fund the building project through a lease purchase agreement. Reason one is the $45,000,000 is nearly twice our bonding capacity. Second, the issuance of bonds will not likely occur for several months and interest rates could change during this time. After completing some financial projections, it appears that an annual payment of $2,700,000 at an interest rate of four percent will pay the bonds off in just over 28 years. If the interest rate increases, it could take a longer time. For instances, if the interest rate comes in at five percent and the payment remains at $2,700,000 it would take 37 years to pay off the bonds. If the interest rate should be six percent and the annual payment remains at $2,700,000, the debt would never be paid because the annual interest would equal the annual payment. One should note this levy will be permanent, it will not end when the building is paid for.

It is not likely that the interest will come in at six percent but, one should realize that a small change in interest rates can result in a large amount of money. An increase of one-tenth of one percent could increase the total cost by $1,584,904, that is an increase from four percent to 4.1 percent. A similar increase results for every one-tenth of one percent the interest rate increases.

--Roger Blakely, Marshall