Boonville Superintendent Dr. Sarah Marriott, School Board President Charlie Melkersman, Laura Speed Elliott Middle School Principal Stephanie Green, Boonville parent Chad Stonecipher and Boonville High School student Josie Johnson answered questions about the two ballot issues at a forum Tuesday evening.
The April election is quickly approaching, and Boonville voters will have to decide on a no-tax bond issue to pay for school repairs and a tax levy increase intended to pay for teacher and staff raises and a school resource officer.
Boonville Superintendent Dr. Sarah Marriott, School Board President Charlie Melkersman, Laura Speed Elliott Middle School Principal Stephanie Green, Boonville parent Chad Stonecipher and Boonville High School student Josie Johnson answered questions about the two ballot issues at a forum Tuesday evening. A video recording of the panel is available on the City of Boonville YouTube page.
The Daily News is publishing the questions and answers from that panel. They have been edited for clarity and length. For more information on the issues, you can read previous Daily News reporting on the ballot issues. If you have any more questions about the issues, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the Daily News will get the answer for you.
What is the difference between a no-tax bond issue and a tax levy increase?
Dr. Sarah Marriott: No tax bond issue is exactly what it says. It's no additional tax for taxpayers. State laws says bond money can only be used for capital projects, repairs and renovations. So that's probably one of the biggest questions that people ask is why can't you use the bond for salaries? It’s state law.
Through some complicated calculations, we determine how much we can borrow, which is right at about $9 million.
When that we say that's no tax, we can pay that with money we’re already getting from your property tax. It's kind of like a home equity line of credit for your house, but for school districts.
And then, the tax levy is, we're asking for you to pay more money for our operating levy, which is how we pay salaries, how we pay for supplies, how we pay for utilities, and transportation and all of those things.
How will additional revenue be used at the school district?
Marriott: So with the no-tax bond issue, we have an outline of projects. We wanted to maximize the use of the money, but then make sure that we are touching all of the buildings.
The tax levy is to ease some of our financial burden and to look at salaries and benefits for the staff, because we are one of the lowest-paying school districts in the area. We also want to look at other areas of need. Do we need to look at adding some additional support and interventions in Math? Do we need to look at restoring some positions that were eliminated in 2009-2010? Do we need to look at student safety? We also hear a lot about teachers having to buy their own supplies. We want to make sure that our kids have what they what they need every day, and the tax levy is going to help with some of those day-to-day costs.
Why did the Board of Education decide they needed a no tax bond issue and a tax levy increase at this April election?
Charlie Melkersman: Over the years, we have developed what I call a less formal strategic plan. Boards in the past have identified issues: facilities, benefits, salaries. And the revenue was not there to address that. When Dr. Marriott came aboard, we brought in an area architectural firm. We wanted to see what exactly the issues were and what it would cost to address them. It kind of blew us out of the water when we saw $30 some-odd-million identified. We whittled that down to about $21, $22 million, to be accomplished over a period of years through phases.
We immediately knew the only way to pay for the capital projects was a bond issue, and the only way to have more competitive salaries and benefits was to raise the operating tax levy.
My initial feeling is why not now? If we wait till next year, it's just another lag of a year for us to address these issues. We also felt that it's the right thing to do by our employees. We value our employees, but we lessen that if we're not willing to go in front of the voters to ask for the money that's necessary to increase salaries, to look at other things that benefit not only our teachers, but all of our district employees. So the question became, why not now?
Why are our buildings in such disrepair and why hasn't something been done earlier?
Melkersman: Not to lay blame there, but the state decreased our revenues several years ago when they didn't fully fund the education formula. Then they started fully funding a lesser amount. We also had the recession where we had to make cuts, no different than other schools. With that being said, going back to the first year I was on the board, there was never money to be able to put on a new roof at the High School and Laura Speed Elliott.
When we had the bond issue several years ago to build Hannah Cole, more than $9 million of the $12 million went toward building Hannah Cole, which was a must-do. So, you had a couple million dollars which we used to finish the district HVAC. And other than that, you had the tax levy kind of meeting the daily needs and problems that came up.
When I came on board, we had a significant leak at the high school, and just to repair that leak was $160,000. When I heard that we were going to spend that amount I thought, well, we're going to get a new roof. But that was just to fix the leak. Now, you see what the cost truly is to redo a roof.
And again, you know we've not had a operating tax levy increase in at least 20 some odd years. So when you go back over 20 years, think of what the inflation has done. Utility costs have gone up, and all those sorts of things.
From a staff member perspective, what are the needs for the Boonville Schools?
Stephanie Green: I mean, when our plaster is falling on top of our kids' heads, that's not a good thing. So we have those facility needs, but our staff also has to feel valued. We've been very fortunate to have a very dedicated, veteran staff and educated, devoted teachers who are not being valued monetarily. That’s bad for morale, and that translates into what we're doing in the classrooms. The more we can support our teachers, the better our education system is going to be.
Why are these ballot measures important to you (Chad Stonecipher)?
Chad Stonecipher: These are our children, and why not give them all the tools they need to reach the highest mountains? We've got great, talented teachers and if we can't keep teachers or bring good teachers in, then what what good are we doing?
Regarding this campaign, what is most important to you, as a parent?
Stonecipher: The future success of my children in this school district. To have the opportunity to learn and grow and get the proper education that they need.
What is one proposed project you are excited by if the bond issue passes (Josie Johnson)?
Josie Johnson: One of the things I'm excited by is the science lab updates. I was in chemistry last year, and there were some things that were very hard to do. There's a cracked fume hood that's not safe. If you have fumes just come in all up in your face while you're working, that's not good.
There's the safety shower for if you got any kind of chemicals on you That's not in the best condition right now, it's about 20 or 30 years old. It seems like there's just a lot of necessary updates that come with that and that would really benefit our education.
What do students see as needs?
Johnson: I've said it before a couple times, but the roof and the heating and cooling systems, especially down at the B-Tech. Another is lockers. Some of them don't shut all the way and you don't want people going around through your stuff. They're also not big enough. I can't put my coat in my locker along with my backpack and a lunch box and all my books, there's just not room.
The parking lots are another concern. Every morning when I come in I've gotta dodge a couple potholes. So things like that, just basic repairs that we could see throughout the building.
Other than the science lab, how will these ballot measures help students?
Johnson: Heating and cooling systems and a new roof would help. Down at the B-Tech, there's been a couple times this winter where the heat's gone out. Or if it's raining outside, and then there's buckets in the classroom, or they have to come in and take out the tile on the roof, or it starts leaking on your head. That makes it hard to just focus on what you need to get done. You can definitely see it in the kids whenever stuff like that happens. It's just dejection, really.
From a student's perspective, why should taxpayers support these issues?
Johnson: That's a very good question. The students are the future of this community. We're future leaders of any sector that we would go into.
We need to start with a good education. So if there's these problems with our buildings, or if the teachers aren't motivated, then there's no way that you're going to be able to get that education that you need.
So that being said, we really would appreciate it if those things could happen. It would impact our community as well if our schools are successful.
Why can't the city of Boonville help with these projects?
Marriott: The city has been a tremendous asset to the district. They've done some great things to help improve our facilities. But really, they're a totally separate entity, and there's no overlap of funding. We wouldn’t maintain the city buildings, and we wouldn’t expect them to maintain our facilities.
Tell us about the soccer fields. What was the school district's role in building them?
Marriott: Well, we didn't build them. The soccer complex was built by a voter-approved CIP tax through the city, and it had nothing to do with the school district. What the school did, is we donated use of some of our land for development. We still own our property. The city doesn't own it. They developed and put fields on some of our property.
So, north of the high school, we still own those fields. We still own our football field. We own half of the championship fields. The city owns the fields to the south and the city is responsible for maintaining the turf on those fields, with exception of our football field, because we built that and we purchased that turf and we'll continue to maintain our property.
The city has that open policy, if our soccer team wants to use the fields, they can. And the baseball team practiced on it when the weather's not great. In their soft-sole shoes, not their cleats.
Does the Board of Education have a facilities plan for the future? What is the facilities plan?
Melkersman: Yes, we partnered with this architectural firm that did this for other schools, like Southern Boone and Columbia Public Schools. They helped show us not only the most immediate needs, but what our needs will be in the next 10 years, and what sort of revenue is necessary to do those things.
So, we have a much clearer picture of not only what we need to do in the immediate future, but what those phases need to be, bonding capacities, how to spend money from this operating tax levy increase for salaries and other things over time.
Why do teachers have to buy their own supplies? Do we not give them enough money for the classroom?
Green: We don't give them enough money for their classrooms to provide the things that their students need. We have not increased our budgets on classroom supplies in at least five years, I would guess probably more.
A lot of teachers just want better for the kids. They want their kids to have what they need, and so they are willing to dip into their own pockets to do it. KOMU came over and did a piece with our ELA Sixth grade teacher, Jamie Boyd, and she showed them what our kids really need and how much money she spends on her own.
So that's definitely a critical thing for our teachers, especially considering that their income hasn't kept up with the cost of living. So when they have to go out and buy materials to do labs, that's a big expense for them.
Sometimes teachers are buying something as simple as composition notebooks because our kids don't come with everything they need all the time. They'll buy pencils, and I know that doesn't sound like much, but when you're supplying a hundred kids a day, it adds up. It's not frivolous, they're buying things that the kids are using to learn.
Do you have any concerns about student safety and how will these ballot measures address your concerns?
Stonecipher: Yes, absolutely. A school resource officer is a very important thing. We're one of the few schools of our size around that doesn't have one. Having one is great for the kids: the interaction, the safety that they feel inside their school, and having somebody else for them to go to. They've got teachers, but a teacher's got 30 kids in a classroom on average. And sometimes they can't get to every student every day. And that child may see that resource officer, they may be their go-to who makes them feel comfortable.
Our kids also need that safety of not having a piece of roof fall on your head when they’re taking a test.
How do you go about employing a school resource officer?
Marriott: Since our school buildings are within the city limits of Boonville, what we're considering would be to retain a Boonville police officer. That person we would remain a Boonville police officer, and then we would reimburse or pay for that person's salary while they are a dedicated full-time employee to our district.
I've looked at my property tax bill, and so much of it already goes to the schools, why is that not enough?
Marriott: Earlier today I was having a conversation with my grandma about that, which was was kind of funny because she says, "Look how much already goes to the school." You're right, a lot goes to the operating expenses, that's why that property tax is so much.
My thought and philosophy is that the community is responsible for investing in education, and we have to be responsible as a community. And that means financial commitment, as well as other support that we can provide.
I hear property is being reassessed. Will this take care of the district's needs?
Melkersman: The best that I understand it is that, over the past few years, the reassessments required by state statute have not been done. The county assessments are at 79 percent of market value, below the state threshold of 90 percent. We need to get to that threshold. Our county assessor wants to do that in increments over several years so people aren't hit by the change all at once. It won’t have a huge effect on the schools.
Marriott: The assessor has said that the assessed valuation of our district could increase by about $3 million dollars. That does not mean the school district is getting $3 million. The most that we would receive after all the reassessments are completed would be about $136,000. Now, what will actually probably happen is that there's something called the Hancock Amendment will kick in and roll back the tax levy, so we will actually not have any additional revenue.
Why is it important to evaluate staff salaries, and does the current salary schedule inhibit recruitment of new staff?
Green: In order for us to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, which I think is what everyone wants for their children, we have to be competitive, and we are not competitive right now. Our staff salaries have only had about $1,000 increase in the last 12 years. For us to recruit teachers and people into this community that we want to bring in, and we want to settle here, and we want to be invested in our community’s future, in our children's future, we have to be able to provide them with the with the financial resources they need.
Out of the surrounding 18 school districts, we're at the bottom in compensation. We are behind Pilot Grove in salaries, and so these smaller districts are drawing our teachers away. They're not all going to Columbia, which we know is going to be hard to compete with.
But we have a lot of very valuable resources here for our teachers. Being a small community, our school district is the right size to be very inter-personal with our students, with our parents, with the community.
But our teachers need to be compensated for the work that they do, for staying here for years and years and years without a raise, and just for the dedication that they've shown.
Tell me about the technology needs of the district.
Green: We work very hard to keep our our kids as close to the forefront of technology as we can get them. Just having computers is not technology, and it's not using technology for educational purposes.
There's an actual model of how to use technology for educational purposes, and we need to be able to get there, and what we need to do to get there is be able to train our teachers, and we need to be able to hire and retain qualified teachers. We need to be able to have programs that build on all of those technology pieces. We need to be able to fund our Project Lead the Way programs because they're vital to what we're looking at in the STEAM and STEM initiatives across the nation. We want young people involved in projects that aren't just using a computer to type a paper, but they're using the computer to create a new product, a new innovation, and we have to have not just the devices and and the the hardware to do that but we have to have the training as well. So, part of that technology piece is really built in how we train our teachers, the teachers that we hire, and the opportunities that we provide our students to use equipment that is up to date, not just in the science labs, but across the whole district. We have some 3-D printers, which are kind of a common thing now, they weren't so common a few years ago. How are we using those? Are our kids creating things that are going out and and developing new ideas for businesses? The skills we want our kids to have are all wrapped up in technology. That's the world that we live in. Of course, they have to have some foundational skills too, but we have to be able to provide opportunities for them with our technology. And some of that is buying equipment, it is buying devices, it is keeping our infrastructure sound.
But until we we recognize that our students have to be provided the opportunities to build skills with those devices and give them the training, give our teachers the training, then our technology is always going to be behind the technology ball. One of our middle school kids actually hacked into our formative assessment program. So, our kids are brilliant.
They are technologically brilliant, but we need to harness that. And we need to give them more opportunities. Not to hack into programs like that, but to develop something from that that is positive and productive.
How does the boat help the school?
Marriott: Gambling money is supposed to be extremely beneficial, and since we have a boat right here in Boonville, doesn't that directly support our school district? Well the boat has been fantastic for Boonville. It definitely has impacted our school district in a positive way. However, all gambling revenues, boat money, lottery money, it all goes into a pool of funding at the state level, and the state spreads it across all school districts in Missouri. So, even though we have a boat in our community, there's no direct benefit to our school district. The boat has done terrific things for school district, but there's no direct financial impact to the school district.
Will staff be impacted by the minimum wage increase?
Marriott: So public school employees are actually exempt from the minimum wage increase. However, if we're going to keep our employees we can't pay them below minimum wage. So right now, we don't have that direct impact from the minimum wage increase, but in the years coming up, if we want to be competitive with our hourly employees, we're going to have to look at at that increase and decide what we want to do now. I anticipate that the board will probably want to keep pace with that.