Whether you were for or against the levy passed this year you have to hand it to the Platte County R-3 School District for how they handled themselves after the failure in 2012. Below is the timeline for what they did between the 2012 failed tax increase and the passage of the 2015 school tax increase.
Almost immediately after the failed tax increase the district started spending money for the new school. Money we were told they did not have. How this was handled magnified the need for a website that would keep voters informed of test scores and financial information not given out by the district. With the "Facts" website came accountability not seen before for the R-3 School District. If the District leaves out low test scores in their literature, only reporting the high scores, you have a place to check. No longer can they make misleading financial statements that will go unchecked. Since the start of the "Facts" website, PCR-3 students are now getting more classroom time in Math, an area that needed improvement, time and help they were not getting before. No longer does PCR-3 compare themselves to districts outside of the area hand picked by administration, now district literature shows comparisons to other Northland schools as the "Facts" website does. For the first time in years "stipends" were posted and approved along with salary increases.
This is what happens when administration is held accountable for the information they do or don't provide. A third party website should not have to do this. Accountability is the job of the School Board and they have failed.
Does R-3 have a self promotion marketing machine that is clicking on all cylinders? Absolutely, but self promotion is not what our tax dollars are for. How can this change? We need good school board members willing to ask questions and make sure the administration, who works for you the taxpayer, is held accountable for items like the misrepresentations from the past three years and see that it does not happen again.
Voters fail to pass a "growth" levy increase for a new school and additions.
Mobile classrooms are quickly put into place outside of the High School while current classroom space inside the existing building goes unused, according to the district’s own study. This was the start of the marketing campaign as these are part of the "Mobile Classrooms" spoken of during the next election cycle. Several hundred thousand dollars of District money were spent to install these Trailers.
2012 TO 2013
High School Enrollment goes down by two students.
A fear tactic of a "Budget Cutting Committee" was enacted by the district to engage citizens in what budget items could be cut from the district budget for 2013-14. The total of all budget cuts not associated with the teachers union looked at in this committee totaled less than $300,000. Items looked at included cutting out magazines in the library, activity bus, raising parking fees etc....2013-14 the district then spent about $700,000 over the initial presented budget with much of it related to preparing for the next levy increase. DO YOU THINK WE REALLY NEEDED THIS COSTLY COMMITTEE? Keep reading....
From 2012 to 2014 the district increased its General Fund (savings account) from Six Million to almost Eight Million Dollars. A savings accumulated while Paxton and Barry schools really are overcrowded. Nothing was done to alleviate this overcrowding problem with the additional savings, as district administration needed to combine the additions at Barry and Pathfinder with the new elementary to get the votes needed for the new school in Platte City. The new school, by the way, located just 1/3 of a mile from an existing K-5 school.
Morning "Coffee Community Meetings" were held at several area locations by school administration. They handed out information showing what turned out to be inflated and incorrect enrollment projections for the district. We were also told that Rising Star was in poor shape and led to believe the southern district area would "explode" in growth when the sewer project was done. The new school Compass Elementary is not proposed in the "exploding" part of the district.
A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was started which involved citizens in the process of how to pay for school growth. Dr. Mike Reik said "the committee’s job is not to decide if we need a school or where but how we will pay for it.” The CAC was made up primarily of supporters of the 2012 levy that failed. Initially, there were about 45 members. By the final meeting they were down to 15. Many of the 15 for the final vote were employees, board members or vendors of the district.
One CAC meeting was held at Rising Star Elementary where the district had allowed the paint to peel on the outside of the building, the parking lot was unkempt, weeds were growing and light bulbs in the halls and cafeteria had not been replaced so the building was dark and looked run-down. We could not inspect the roof which was “in need of repair,” we were told it was unsafe for several men to walk on it. We were told the district budget would not allow upkeep if the building was going to be replaced and the light bulbs were a "resistor" problem. This is before approximately $300,000 of unbudgeted dollars were spent related to building the new school not approved by voters.
During the CAC meetings, the incorrect growth and school capacity numbers were also used. Incorrect bond rating information was presented several times then never corrected in the meetings. The CAC and public were not told in these meetings that the "Lease Purchase" financing option proposed by administration had a lower bond rating than other financing options. The district did make sure the Platte County Citizen was there to report the incorrect information and they did.
I realized if financial information was this manipulated by the district then what about Academics, Test Scores, Salaries etc...? I spoke several times at the school board meetings and pointed out incorrect information and problem areas for the district. No meaningful dialog or retractions were made and I realized there was a need for a website to offset the misinformation distributed by the district. The district was unwilling to correct any of the information so the R3facts website was started.
$181,000 paid to Hollis and Miller Architects for "new elem proj”
JULY OF 2013
The CAC proposal for another levy increase was presented to the School Board.
Just months after the July CAC recommendation, a new enrollment study was given to the board with much lower enrollment number projections than what had been used in all public meetings to this point. The CAC which proposed the tax increase based on growth was never told a new study was in process or being considered.
A new Capacity Analysis was done by the district (Hollis and Miller $4,000) lowering the capacity of many schools in the district. Our new middle school dropped from a capacity of 750 when it was built less than 10 years ago to just 623 and it's 114,000 sq ft, 1/3 larger than Compass which we are told will hold 700 students. Capacity was dropped in the study by not including many rooms used as classroom space. Rooms such as the Gym, Band, Choir Special Education etc... About half of the square footage of the high school and middle school were not included in the study as "usable" classroom space contrary to standards for this type of study. As a result they made it look like the district does have a capacity problem when in reality they did not at many schools.
$70,000 paid to Hollis and Miller Architects for "long range planning" project.
High School Parking fees and lunch prices increased. District savings account is now up to about eight million dollars.
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 2014
$154,000 Paid to Hollis and Miller for items related to the "new elem" project. Another $31,000 for Misc services.
A presentation was made to the School Board on needed roof repairs for the district buildings. Rising Star, which we were told was in poor condition at the CAC meeting by Dr. Mike Reik, was now presented as being "OK" and not needing immediate attention by Assist. Superintendent Dr. Gardner with Dr. Reik sitting immediately to his left at the meeting. The Rising Star roof had been presented as unsafe to the CAC. School Board member Gary Brown, who attended the CAC meetings, was silent during the comments.
3.5% to 5% raises given to all district employees.
Another $230,000 paid to Hollis and Miller for "new elem" project.
Between March 2013 and August 2014 over $500,00 was paid to Hollis and Miller Architects for items related to the "new elem" project. 1/2 million dollars for a project voted down by the voters, the same voters asked to form a "Budget Cutting Committee" due to possible financial problems in the district. The majority of funds paid out to Hollis and Miller during this time period was "unbudgeted" dollars.
NOVEMBER 3, 2014
Laura Hulett, the Platte County R-3 Director of Communications, is added as Deputy Treasurer to the Quality R-3 Schools PAC also known as "Kids First," the group that worked to pass the levy. This was done over one month before the School Board voted to put the levy increase on the ballot and the district was still having meetings to get citizen input on the possible proposal. The R-3 district office was listed as the address for the Quality R-3 Schools PAC. Laura Hulett sent out e-mails during school hours organizing and collecting information to fight for the levy and the district office phone number was originally listed as a contact for this PAC.
The Board makes the decision to put the levy increase on the April 2015 Ballot. In the weeks before this, it was reported to me that Dr. Reik was already seen at the company who would be hired by the Quality R-3 PAC campaign to get the levy passed, AXIOM Strategies. AXIOM Strategies/ Candidate Command would end up receiving about $25,000 from the Quality R-3 Schools group.
2015 SCHOOL YEAR
School administration shuts down one of two ways for the students to go from the South side of the High School to the North side, thus forming a manmade congestion problem, increasing the appearance of overcrowding in the hallways.
JAN 2015 TO APRIL 2015
"Open Forum" meetings were held by Dr. Reik about the upcoming election. By the final meetings, the majority of time was spent trying to discredit any opposing information. No time was spent correcting any information disseminated by the Kids First campaign. These meetings were paid for with your tax dollars in buildings owned by taxpayers. The school website and parent emails were also used to try and discredit any opposing information to the levy increase while addressing nothing from Kids First.
By the election date the Quality R-3 PAC had raised almost $40,000 with the majority coming from businesses who stand to gain from the levy passing. Most were located outside of the county. The donations to raise your taxes and build this school in the PCR-3 school district came primarily from: KC Mo Attorneys; a Realty company in KC MO; a Construction company in Olathe KS; four different Architect-Engineering and Consulting firms from KS, NE, and KC Mo; a district food supplier from Chesterfield, Mo; and the KC Home Builders Association. Over 10% of the funds to fight for the levy increase in your district came from the National Education Association (a teachers union). Some support from the area came from Wells Bank $5,000 who just happened to get a most recent school contract, Platte Valley Bank $2,000 who lost that contract (give more next time!), the Miller-Donelli Insurance Agency donated $2,000, they handle district insurance, KCI Auto Auction and Platte Valley Dental. These funds were all sent to “Quality R-3 Schools" PAC which used a district employee as one of its two Treasurers.
By election day the "Kids First" campaign, funded by the groups above, had spent almost $34,000. That's $15 per person for every taxpayer who voted for the levy. Don't forget that R-3 is already one of the largest employers in the district with the largest voting block of employees. As a result, they have the power to influence and sway elections in their favor.
April 7, 2015 the levy increase passes with only 30% of registered voters voting.
Raises of 3 to 5% proposed for all employees of the district. This is now a 10% increase over two years for some employees of the district in a stagnant economy.
Your Platte County R-3 Superintendent, who oversaw most of the information listed above, has received a 6.59% pay increase in the last two years or about a $10,000 raise.
If you were one of the 70% of registered voters who failed to vote in April 2015, do you think you should vote next time around?