3 schools have tax plans on ballot

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Future school construction in three Southeast Missouri school districts could hinge on the outcome of tax issues on Tuesday's ballot.

The small, rural Delta and Altenburg school districts have issues on the ballot in an effort to secure more state aid, and the Perryville School District has a bond issue on the ballot for the second time since November.

Two of the three measures would take simple majorities to pass. The third ballot measure, the Perryville bond issue, requires a supermajority of just over 57 percent to pass, school officials said.

Perryville school officials are again asking voters to approve a $3.36 million general obligation bond issue to retire existing debt and free up operating-fund money to improve the school campus. Voters rejected the measure Nov. 7 by nearly 1,000 votes.

The measure would increase the school district's levy by 31 cents per $100 assessed valuation, from $3.20 to $3.51, to pay off the bonds. But after six years, the rate would drop back to its current level, school officials said.

The district currently uses money from its operating fund to make payments on lease-purchase debt incurred for construction, remodeling and renovation of schools in the 1990s. Debt payments total more than $600,000 a year, officials said.

Freeing up operating-fund revenue would allow the district to construct classrooms to replace trailers now used to house some classes at the elementary and middle schools, officials said.

The district also wants to replace outdated computers and heating and air-conditioning units, construct a nurse's office for the elementary school and replace windows to improve energy efficiency. Also planned are expansion of parking for the high school and replacement of school roofs as needed.

The three candidates seeking election to two positions on the Perryville school board favor the tax measure.

"It makes smart fiscal sense," candidate James Tolcou said. Tuesday's school election likely will draw fewer voters to the polls than the November election, he said, which may improve the bond issue's chance of passage.

"We are getting more and more children all the time, and we are running out of room for them," incumbent Tina Littge said. The district has more than 2,200 students.

Incumbent Judi Wibbenmeyer said the district also needs increased funding so it can improve pay to better retain teachers.

But supporters concede that in a district where many families send their children to parochial schools, public school taxes can be a hard sell.

Board president Scott Cooper said voters in the district haven't approved a school bond issue since the 1970s.

Altenburg

The Altenburg and Delta school districts hope to tap into state funding for smaller school districts -- those with enrollment under 350 students -- by raising their operating levies. Both measures need simple majorities to pass.

To secure added state funding, small school districts have to have operating levies of at least $3.43 per $100 assessed valuation, officials said.

Altenburg wants to raise its levy from $3.07 to $3.43. The actual measure would allow the district to raise the levy by 53 cents to $3.60. But superintendent Richard Hoffman said the school board only intends to raise the tax levy by 36 cents.

The school district hasn't had a tax increase since 1982, he said.

Hoffman said school officials crafted the measure to allow the board the flexibility to adjust the levy if the assessed valuation goes up and the state requires a tax rollback. The school board wants to make sure that the property tax levy doesn't drop below the $3.43 threshold for added state funding, Hoffman said.

The tax levy increase would generate about $85,000 to $100,000 annually in additional revenue, Hoffman said. That would include $27,000 in state aid.

Some of the added revenue would be spent on school maintenance and operations. Part of it would go into a building fund.

School officials want to construct a new, single-story school to replace the four small, aging buildings that now make up the campus for the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade district. The main building was erected in 1929.

Officials hope to construct a new school on a 17-acre site next to the district's early childhood center on Route C.

Hoffman said voter approval of Tuesday's tax measure could allow the district to be in a position within five years to construct a new school under a lease-purchase arrangement.

All five candidates running for three positions on the Altenburg school board support the tax measure, including Harold France, the lone incumbent on the ballot.

France and other school officials say the current school facilities aren't adequate to serve the district's more than 100 students.

"One of our classrooms has 32 students in it," France said, while two grades of students share classrooms in some subjects.

Physical education classes are held in a barnlike structure that has no heating or air conditioning, school officials said. The school's sports teams play at a Lutheran parochial school gym in Farrar, Mo.

School board candidate Troy Martin said the current school buildings are inadequate. "It is all pieced together," he said.

A new school would better serve students and teachers, board candidate Rick Sachs said.

Board candidate Thomas Scheiter said, "I think a strong public school is good for our community."

School board candidate Gregory Winschel said a new school could spark economic development in the Altenburg and Frohna area of Perry County.

Delta

In Delta, the tax proposal doesn't involve a tax increase. The measure would allow the district to shift 20 cents of its debt service levy to its operating levy to bring the latter up to the $3.43 state funding threshold.

The total levy would remain at $3.63.

The move would increase the district's state aid by about $30,000 a year, Delta superintendent Nathan Crowden said.

Crowden said the added revenue would allow the district to start setting aside money for a new elementary school.

No timetable has been set for such a project, he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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