by PJ Rooks and Ivan Foley
The Platte County R-3 school board will be asking for voter approval at next Tuesday’s election on a 60-cent tax levy increase.
Some opposition to the plan has surfaced, with letters to the editor and a full page ad in this week’s issue of The Landmark. Opponents question the size of the proposed tax hike in the current state of the economic climate. Opponents also point out there is no provision for a sunset to the increased tax and no plan for a future reduction of the tax levy. Opponents also say the school’s proposed use of the funds raised by the tax levy hike is vague.
In January, the school board approved a resolution for a special election on the question of a tax levy which would be used largely to finance construction of a new elementary school on its Platte City campus at an maximum estimated cost of $21 million.
If approved by voters, the levy will also be used to finance the construction of seven to nine additional classrooms and a multipurpose area at Pathfinder Elementary as well as expansions at the high school that will free up classroom spaces indoors and, outdoors, will add parking and bus areas and replace the tennis courts. The levy will also be used in maintenance, security and technology improvements across the district as a whole.
“This has been a long journey, a long process, and the board and the community is aware that we have vetted this through receiving input from the community in a variety of mediums,” said Superintendent Mike Reik during the board meeting in January.
“We have done a financial review, we have done robust demographic studies and we know what our enrollment projections are. We’re at that time where we’ve pulled everything together, and it’s time to take it to our voters, if you will.”
The ballot will ask voters for authorization to “fully eliminate the reduction in the operating tax levy (Proposition C rollback) for school purposes resulting from sales tax revenues” as well as to “increase the operating tax levy ceiling of the district to $4.0688 per $100 of assessed valuation,” which will, in effect, increase the district’s operating levy by 60 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from its current rate of $3.46 per $100.
Reik said that the project is intended to reflect findings of a recent survey which indicated public support for keeping class sizes low, addressing enrollment growth and maintaining district buildings. The survey showed that for stakeholders not supportive of the project, the most frequently cited reason was concern with current economic uncertainty.
“Ironically,” said Reik, “the current state of the economy will provide the most competitive bidding environment and best interest rates possible which lowers the amount of needed taxation.”
One of the goals for the proposed 65,000 square foot elementary school, according to a public information flyer distributed by the district, is to completely replace Rising Star Elementary, which is over 60 years old and in need of $400,000 in repairs.
During the January board meeting, Keegan Jackson and Michelle Meyer of Hollis + Miller Architects presented a virtual tour of the building as proposed. The full tour is accessible from the district’s web site through the following link: http://126.96.36.199/attachments/990a3102-0fe9-411d-ba04-bdbc8e73a28b.pdf or by navigating through the site’s electronic school board pages to the Jan. 19 meeting (*full instructions below).
Lead architect for the project, Michelle Meyer, said the two-story plan of the building will provide the most cost-efficient solution to the challenges presented by the land. Features of the school will include two classroom wings, an upper and a lower, which can be locked off to leave public areas such as the gym, cafeteria and media center available for use after hours.
The plan also includes a stage between the gym and lunchroom that can be closed off by a walls or opened for flexible use. Three activity centers are included in each classroom wing for special projects such as science activities, mentoring and one-on-one reading, Meyer said, and one of the activity centers also has access to the outdoors.
“It’s a unique plan because not only are those breakout spaces available,” said Meyer, “but they’re also sized the same size as a classroom. In the future if you had a bubble in enrollment, that lets you accommodate that.”
A two-story media center that can be viewed from the upper level of the building is designed both to bring in natural daylight and to try to get away from the feeling of being on a basement level, Meyer said.
“We want to make this building, even though it’s two stories, feel very connected between the two,” said Meyer.
Lockers in the hallway, instead of cubbies in the classrooms, and recessed lighting on dimmer switches are also intended to add flexibility for classrooms, Meyer said.