The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 4, 2012

Joplin School Board votes on $62 million bond issue

— The Joplin Board of Education will vote Monday morning on a $62 million bond recommendation for the rebuilding of schools that were destroyed in the May 22 tornado, renovations of elementary schools and building community safe rooms.

The dollar amount also includes matching money needed to qualify for grants to build community safe rooms at each school.

The district estimates the total costs of all the projects at $185 million. Depending on the school board’s decision, the issue could go to voters on April 3.

“From what I know from different board members is their minds are not made up,” Board President Ashley Micklethwaite told the Globe.

“It’s a very tough decision. Each member will come to the table, listen to the information and vote (for) what they believe is best for our kids and community.”

The district’s bonding capacity is about $63 million. A $62 million bond would increase the levy by 35 cents, from $3.31 to $3.65 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Under the current levy, it costs the owner of a home with a $100,000 market value almost $630 per year in school taxes. If the proposed bond issue passes, the amount it would cost that same homeowner would increase to about $695.

The funding gap, district officials say, will have to be filled by a combination of revenue streams and a bond issue. Other sources of revenue the district is pursuing include insurance, state and federal aid, bonds and grants.

“The federal and state emergency funds that are currently available aren’t going to be here on an ongoing basis,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said. “They’re only available to us as long as we can come up with the matching funds to access those federal and state monies.”

So far, the district has received approximately $4 million in donations since the May 22 tornado. However, most of those donations were earmarked by donors for the direct benefit of the district’s students and families in the immediate aftermath. The district has about $1.7 million in donations for rebuilding, Huff said. Most recently, the district received a nearly $1 million donation from an anonymous donor.

Before the tornado, the district was considering a bond issue to expand the high school, eliminate trailers from several elementary school sites through additions and renovations, and build new Columbia and West Central elementary schools.

Earlier last week, the administration was considering adding the costs for rebuilding those two schools that were undamaged in the storm to the bond issue. But Huff said the district does not have the bonding capacity to cover those costs at this point in time. He said he was concerned over equality issues since Columbia and West Central would be the oldest buildings in the district, and community support for rebuilding those schools might wane over time once the other new ones are rebuilt. If the district receives more in state and federal aid than it anticipates, he said there may be enough funding to build those schools later.

“There’s a very realistic fear, I think, that those projects could potentially never be done if we don’t do them now just because of a lack of support,” Huff said. “What’s the motivation for somebody to go to the polls to support a new elementary school in a part of town that doesn’t impact them? That’s a concern.”

‘PLAN B’

By law, the district must receive 57.14 percent of the vote in favor of a bond issue for it to pass. If the bond issue does not pass, the district would first focus on rebuilding permanent schools for the younger students who currently are in temporary locations, including Irving students at the old Washington Elementary, East Middle School students at a repurposed warehouse in an industrial park and Duenweg/Duquesne students sharing the Duenweg building.

But the district would have to postpone plans for Joplin High School, Franklin Technology Center and safe rooms for all of the schools, Huff said. Without the bond, the district would not be able to match a portion of the funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency could provide toward safe rooms. Huff said the new JHS and FTC building is the largest and most underfunded, so the district would look at replacing it at a later date since its temporary facilities are better than the others.

The last bond issue was in 2007 for the renovation and rebuild of the three middle schools: North, South and East. East Middle School was destroyed in the tornado, and current plans are for the new school to be built on a shared campus with a combined Duenweg and Duquesne elementary school. The amount for the middle school bond issue was $57.3 million, which brought the district to its current operating levy of $3.31.

In August, the Board of Education voted to maintain the current levy at $3.31 for 2011-2012. At the time, Paul Barr, chief financial officer, estimated the district’s loss of assessed valuation at about $24 million. Gov. Jay Nixon pledged $1.5 million in funding from the state last fall to help offset the anticipated loss of property tax revenue.

 

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