JOPLIN, Mo. —
In a special session Monday morning, the Joplin Board of Education unanimously approved for the ballot what likely is the largest bond issue proposal in the history of the school district.
If endorsed by voters April 3, the posed $62 million bond issue would go toward rebuilding schools destroyed in the May 22 tornado, community storm shelters throughout the school district, and repairs and upgrades to undamaged elementary schools.
The bond issue has some Joplin taxpayers divided, given the current economic climate and the impact the storm had on residents. The district’s total levy now stands at $3.31 per $100 of assessed valuation. The total is composed of the $2.75 operating levy and a 56-cent levy for debt service.
If the bond issue is approved, the debt service levy would increase by 35 cents, making the total levy $3.66 per $100 assessed valuation. For purposes of example, that would cost the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 about $695 in annual school taxes, an increase of about $65.
“Folks like me can’t afford that increase, but I know somebody’s got to pay it, and I can understand the costs,” said Joe Groce, of Joplin. “I probably won’t be voting in favor of it. I can see paying some, but not that much. Most Joplin residents can’t afford that.”
Some others see the proposal as more of a necessity.
“What the schools have gone through is horrific, and I can imagine there’s a huge need for additional funding,” said Steve Gaarder, of Joplin. “It’s something I’d be willing to pay for. Any tax increase is hard to swallow, but I will if it’s to pay for the purpose of educating kids.”
The school district’s bonding capacity is about $63 million. District officials say that if the bond issue is approved, they will still aggressively seek other means of funding, including grants, and state and federal aid.
“When there’s an opportunity to better a situation, you have to take advantage of that, and as long as the federal and state support and donations are coming in, we need to take advantage of those to offset the taxpayer burden long term,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said.
The district estimates that all the projects would cost about $185 million. It will receive about $85.9 million in total insurance proceeds from Travelers Insurance for schools that were destroyed in the tornado, a figure on which the board settled in closed session Monday. The district has yet to settle on the contents of the buildings, which is a separate claim.
Huff gave a presentation of his reasons for recommending the bond issue to the board before it voted. After the meeting, several board members declined interviews and referred questions to board President Ashley Micklethwaite. Board member Anne Sharp was not present for the meeting.