After months of discussion that included an online survey of district patrons and other local residents, the Maryville R-II School Board acted this week to create a fiscal framework they hope will finance a major capital improvements program.
The board voted Wednesday to increase the district's debt-service property tax levy from 69 cents to 79 cents, still well below the 26-cent ceiling that would have required voter approval.
What's key about the increase is not so much the amount — though property owners will certainly notice the difference on their tax bills — but the motivation. District officials are planning to use the extra revenue to service $10.25 million in new debt in the form of a bond issue scheduled to go before voters next April.
Proceeds from sale of the bonds would pay for a new kitchen/cafeteria and commons area at Eugene Field Elementary School, a new performing arts center at Maryville High School, and possibly a second MHS gymnasium.
Superintendent Larry Linthacum said the gymnasium portion of the proposal is dependent on a possible grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would pay up to 75 percent of the construction cost.
A condition of the grant would be that the facility be constructed to specifications that would allow its use as a community shelter in the event of a severe storm or other large-scale emergency.
Linthacum said he recognizes that public debt and higher taxes are not exactly popular these days as voters continue to cope with a shaky economy. But he added that the district has been studying its facilities needs since 1997, and that patrons have consistently shown support for the priorities set forth this week by the School Board.
"We have worked hard to define needs versus wants," he said, "and we believe that these needs still exist — needs that were identified in 1997 and confirmed in 2002 and again in 2008" during various district planning initiatives.
Most recently, district officials completed evaluating an online facilities survey that attracted 524 respondents. The results indicated patron support for a performing arts center, a new Eugene Field cafeteria and a second high school gymnasium in that order.
Should the bond issue fail next year, Linthacum said at least part of the 10-cent debt-service levy would roll back. He added that the district was in a good position to move forward with a bond issue after saving more than $1 million two years ago by refinancing existing debt that was assumed to expand Eugene Field and construct a new middle school.
While moving increased the debt-service levy, the R-II board left its operating levy at $4.24 per $100 of assessed valuation. Linthacum said he believes the district is on solid ground with regard to salaries and operational costs despite an anticipated $400,000 loss in revenue in 2014-'15 tied to the approaching shutdown of the Energizer battery plant.
Page 2 of 2 - So at least for this year, financing capital expenditures would appear to be the district's central priority.
"Our goal is to be a model school district," Linthacum said. "We recognize that academics is at the core of what we do, but we also believe that facilities are an important component in achieving that goal."
Linthacum said the district will host a town hall-style meeting in late September or early October to give patrons a chance to weigh in on the bond issue. He is also planning on speaking to service clubs and civic groups this fall in an effort to round up voter support.