Voters reject increase in Liberty school tax

Voters in the Liberty School District on Tuesday rejected a proposed increase in its operating levy that would have raised $41 million over the next 20 years.

The issue failed with 51.5 percent of the voters casting ballots against the measure.

The district sought a 43-cent increase to fund construction at its two high schools as well as build a multipurpose district stadium and an elementary school — the district’s 11th.

The district said it needed the increase to build facilities that would meet the needs of the growing number of students attending the district.

The work at the high schools would have allowed the district to relieve crowding at its middle grade levels by moving ninth-graders to the high schools in 2013.

The district has 11,300 students, including nearly 1,000 students in its first-grade classes.

“We knew the struggling economy would be a big factor in whether our patrons could handle a levy increase at this time,” Superintendent Mike Brewer said. “We respect the voice of the people in indicating that this is not the right time.”

The district will continue to take good care of its children, Brewer said.

“Although it will be a challenge, we will be creative in accommodating continued growth using our current facilities,” he said. “I will visit with the school board and key stakeholders to evaluate what our next steps should be regarding overcrowding in the district.”

The levy increase faced harsh criticism by some, including Liberty Mayor Greg Canuteson. Canuteson said he thought the district could meet the growing number of students by finishing Liberty North High School and adding some elementary classrooms under the district’s current budget.

He also opposed construction of the stadium.

“I support building a new elementary school and finishing Liberty North High School,” said Canuteson. “I believe the school district along with community partners can work together to accomplish those goals without raising taxes to the second highest in the state of Missouri.

“I’m committed to helping the school district in any way I can to reach those objectives and I want to have new school built quickly and Liberty North finished immediately.”

The district’s boundaries include Liberty as well as parts of Kansas City, North, and unincorporated Clay County.