North Kansas City and Park Hill districts move forward after voters decide funding issues

04/10/2014 8:21 AM

04/16/2014 7:29 AM

Now that voters have spoken about the North Kansas City and Park Hill school districts’ plans to raise more money, some school officials are moving forward with plans and others are adjusting theirs.

Voters on Tuesday approved both a bond issue and a tax-levy increase in the North Kansas City district and rejected a tax-levy increase in Park Hill. All three measures were decided with more than 60 percent of the vote.

“Platte County has a reputation of being fiscally conservative,” said Park Hill school board President Susan Newburger. “We thought we had done our due diligence in being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, but also responsive to the needs of students and teachers, so, obviously, we are disappointed in the outcome.”

Park Hill asked voters to approve a property-tax hike of 32 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for technology and safety enhancements. The issue needed a simple majority to pass, but failed 61 to 39 percent.

In North Kansas City, voters OK’d a $20 million bond issue for land acquisition, construction, remodeling and security improvements. The bond required a four-sevenths majority, or 57 percent, and won with 61 percent.

North Kansas City voters also approved a levy hike of 26 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for operations and staffing. The levy needed a simple majority and got 66 percent approval.

North Kansas City School Superintendent Todd White said the district needed the two funding measures to remedy the financial effects of the Great Recession.

“We lost $16 million in local revenue through taxes,” White said. “Because of the recession dropping the assessed property values in the district, our valuation today in 2014 is the same as it was in 2004. … Then we lost $14 million from the lack of the state foundation formula being fully funded. That last time it was fully funded was 2007.

“That was our message to the patrons: We’ve been dealing with a $30 million hole in our budget, so the tax things are to compensate for that. We’ve been asked to pull rabbits out of our hats, but there are no more rabbits to pull, so we had to explain the effect to voters and ask for their support. We are extremely grateful and appreciative to have received it.”

With the money generated by the bond issue, North Kansas City schools will begin to implement enhanced security measures that will include an instant background-check system at all schools.

Entrances will be strengthened, and visitors will have to be buzzed in. Once they are inside, White said, a computer system will check their names against databases of felony convictions and sex-offender registries.

White said he thought patrons appreciated the creative thinking that the North Kansas City school board has done, pledging to convert 14 computer labs and 14 classrooms that had been designated for gifted students back into 28 regular classrooms. The gifted-student program will move to a building in downtown Gladstone whose cost will be split among several entities, thus costing the district far less to rent than it would have to build a new building, White said. Mobile computers have reduced or eliminated the need for dedicated computer labs, White said.

The failure of the tax-levy increase in Park Hill means that students in middle and high schools there won’t be getting mobile computers any time soon, and that security enhancements will have be done piecemeal, through “belt tightening,” according to school board president Newburger.

Newburger said a pilot program that put mobile computers in the hands of every student in three fifth-grade classrooms last school year had shown promising results, and the district wanted to expand it to all students.

“The other side of the tax issue was for security enhancements, based on the report of our consultant,” Newburger said. “Overall, we got a very positive report, saying our students are safe. But you can never guarantee anything, and there are things that could be done to improve security.”

The top priority, from a security standpoint, Newburger said, is to change out the locks on all classrooms in the district’s 18 schools so that they can be locked from inside, rather than the hallway. That, she said, would allow teachers to secure their classrooms and “shelter in place” in the event of an “active shooter” situation.

Newburger said a couple of last-minute mailings opposing the levy increase from a group called Taxpayer Protection PAC may have hurt the issue’s chances of passing.

“Any negative campaigning does have an effect and takes away from the positive message we were trying to get out,” Newburger said. “No one ever wants to pay more taxes, but if there is a clear and compelling reason, we believe the stakeholders in the district will listen. We have to accept the outcome. We’re listening to what is said, and we will evaluate what our next steps are.”

The Smithville-based Taxpayer Protection PAC, which issued the mailers and ran a phone campaign against the levy hike, issued a press release Thursday, thanking voters for defeating it.

Park Hill Superintendent Scott Springston noted that the sun rose Wednesday morning, despite the tax-levy defeat.

“Park Hill was a great district yesterday; it’s a great district today, and that did not change,” Springston said.

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