Jackson plan for finances makes sense

Sunday, October 19, 2003

In just over two weeks, voters in the Jackson School District will be making an important decision regarding future funding.

If voters give their approval on Nov. 4, the district stands to gain nearly $2 million for operations. These would be crucial dollars to meet the district's growing needs at a time when state funding is being reduced because of the squeeze on the state budget that looks even more critical for next year.

Jackson's plan is simple and effective.

Voters will be asked to eliminate the rollback in the local levy that the district -- and other districts across the state -- had to make when Missouri voters approved a measure called Proposition C in 1982.

Prop C created a statewide one-cent sales tax for education. Proceeds from this special sales tax have been distributed to school districts on a per-pupil basis since then.

When Prop C went into effect, districts were required to lower their local levies enough to offset half the revenue being received from the new sales tax. The idea was to provide more money for education while giving taxpayers some relief from the local property-tax burden. The rollback was a popular idea in 1982 and is credited, in part, for the success of the passage of that education sales tax.

But districts also were given the option of eliminating the rollback in order to raise local property-tax levies -- only if voters approved. That's what the Jackson district is asking voters to do next month.

However, the overall tax rate would remain the same, because the operating tax levy would be increased while the debt-service levy would be reduced by exactly the same amount. This would shift $950,000 from the debt-service fund to the operating fund. The district says it can afford to do this because it has taken advantage of lower bond interest in recent months and has refinanced some of its bond issues, resulting in significant savings in interest costs.

Moreover, district officials make an important point regarding this ballot issue. If voters approve, the overall tax rate won't go up, but there will be more money for operations. And if voters don't approve, the overall tax rate won't go down, but there will be no extra money for operations.

On top of all that, approval of the plan would mean more state funding for the district. The state's funding formula is tied to each district's operating levy. Increasing the operating levy triggers an increase in state funding as well. Officials say that could be as much as an extra $1 million. And that increase is not just a one-time boost. It would go to the district every year.

Together the shift in the local levy plus the increase in state funding would generate almost $2 million a year for the Jackson district with no local tax increase. The fact that local taxes would not go up cannot be overemphasized. In this day and age, tax issues are tough to sell to most voters. The Jackson district, however, has come up with a trade-off plan that is sensible and produces significantly positive results.

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