Voters next Tuesday can help guide the futures of their local school districts in Missouri by deciding bond and tax issues and determining who will sit on school boards.
Here are The Star’s recommendations in selected contests and ballot questions.
A $40 million bond issue request represents an excellent opportunity for the school district and the region. It requires approval by four-sevenths of the vote and deserves a resounding “Yes.”
The district would use $17.5 million to finance a new technology academy shared with the University of Central Missouri. The university would pick up 60 percent of construction costs, and the school district would be the sole owner.
Besides providing technically advanced classrooms for the school district and university, the new school would be the site of the acclaimed Missouri Innovation Campus, where students get a head start on college credits and work experience through school district partnerships with colleges and businesses.
The move would enable the district to avoid renewing a lease on a current building, which is expected to rise. The bond issue is not expected to result in a tax increase. The school district could save $9 million in lease payments over 20 years, freeing up operating funds for other uses.
The remaining bond money, $22.5 million, would be used for maintenance and upgrades to existing buildings.
Voters will also be asked to replace two board members who are not running for re-election. Candidates Julie Doane and Adam Rutherford have taken active roles in supporting the district and its schools. Their long-term knowledge and interest gives them an edge over a third candidate, William Lindsey.
This growing school district has the lowest operating tax levy of all Missouri school districts in the Kansas City region. Its local funding has dropped by $4.5 million in six years, resulting in teacher layoffs even as the district added almost 1,300 students.
The school board has wisely opted to ask voters to approve a 24-cent tax levy increase, adjusting the operating levy to $4.67 per $100 of assessed valuation. For the average homeowner, that would represent a property tax increase of $45.60 a year. Independence would still have the second lowest levy of Missouri-side schools.
The increase would raise $2 million a year. About $1.4 million would be used to hire teachers and keep salaries competitive with other districts. The rest would be used for professional development, investments in technology and building maintenance.
A “Yes” vote is recommended.
This south Kansas City district has made good progress over the past two years under the guidance of Superintendent Dennis Carpenter and a board that functions well.
But it wouldn’t take much to return to the ineptitude that resulted in a critical audit and lackluster academic performance. Voters should choose carefully when selecting two board members from eight candidates.
Board President Eric Lowe has played a quiet but major role in the turnaround. He is capable and transparent and deserves re-election.
Loran Coleman is an energetic parent and PTA president who served on a task force that developed the district’s five-year strategic plan. Her hard work and concern for the schools and students would serve the board well.
Incumbent Darrell Curls unfortunately chose to side with outside interests in the chaotic times instead of looking out for the good of the district. He does not deserve another term.
North Kansas City
Two incumbents — Jeffrey “Chip” Luerding and Jay Wilson — plus young newcomer Victor S. Hurlbert are the best choices to keep this large district of exceptionally diverse students headed in the proper direction. Test scores have improved, but the next board will need to focus better on efficiently using public funds for technology upgrades. The other candidate is Dennis J. Jirkovsky.
Incumbent Matt Pepper has earned re-election with his dedicated service of smartly using district dollars for modern education programs. Lathem A. Scott would be a knowledgeable addition to the board, whose duties are getting more complicated as the fast-growing Northland district expands. The other candidates are Jeffrey Dean Kingsley and Karen Elizabeth Holland.