New Franklin voters will head to the polls Nov. 5 to decide whether the school district should raise it’s property tax levy.

The district, which covers much of southern Howard County and the Rocheport area of western Boone County, is proposing a $1 increase to its general operating levy of $3.42 for every $100 of assessed property.

The district hasn’t increased its levy since 1994 and it needs the additional revenue to cover underfunded state mandates that have left New Franklin schools with a budget deficit each of the past three years, Superintendent Brian Cordel said. Without the increase, the district will have to cut staff, reach into its reserves, or even borrow money from the state in the coming years.

“That’s not a good thing, and we want to be proactive,” Cordel said. “Instead of saying, ‘We’re out of money, now we have to pass a tax levy,’ we want to be ahead of this.”

Cordel points to underfunded mandates from state and federal government as a major culprit of the district’s budget woes. The district is required to provide programs like special education and buses for it’s students, Cordel said. They get some funding for those programs, but the district was left with a $571,575 deficit in mandatory program funding last year.

The district spent $498,208 on special education last year. The government paid it $112,869 for the program, leaving the district to pay the remaining $385,339. It’s the same in transportation. The state can reimburse districts for up to 75 percent of their transportation costs, but with legislators underfunding that part of the state budget, that doesn’t always happen.

Last year, the state reimbursed New Franklin $28,166 for transportation, covering 19 percent of the district’s total transportation cost of $147,791. State revenues are a major source of funds for all schools in Missouri, and annual underfunding puts schools like New Franklin in a tough position. A $571,575 hole is a lot to cover for a small district that generates $930,282 in revenue.

“It’s why, slowly, the school district started going into the hole, because you have to keep making up more and more from your own district,” Cordel said.

State funding in the year 2000 made up just over half of the district’s total budget. Last year, state funding made up 45.5 percent of the district’s budget, forcing it to rely more on local and federal funds, according to DESE data.

A $1 levy increase is crucial for a district with a $3.42 property tax levy, in the bottom third of the state. For someone with property assessed at $100,000, it’s an additional $190 a year in property taxes. For the district, it would mean raising it’s levy to the top 15 percent of schools in the state, rising from 328th highest to 70th.

But the district’s revenue will not increase substantially compared to other districts due to New Franklin’s relatively low assessed property value. The hike would generate an additional $300,621 on top of the $930,282 the district currently generates from its general operating levy. The district would rise from having the 344th-highest revenue to the 287th-highest in the state.

New Franklin had $35,120 of assessed property in the year 2000 for every student, while 373 districts had a higher value per student. Last year, assessed property value had almost doubled to $67,541 since 2000, but 410 districts had higher property values.

Inflation has greatly increased since voters last approved an increase to the New Franklin school property tax levy in 1994. Back then, New Franklin teachers started at $17,030. This year, they start at $31,750.

In 2000, as far back as DESE’s available statistics go, New Franklin schools spent $5,659 per student, with 45 percent of Missouri schools spending more per pupil. By 2009, New Franklin was spending $7,959 per pupil and fell into the bottom third of schools by that measure.

Last year, the district spent $9,241 per pupil, up almost two-thirds from 2000. At the same time, per-pupil spending nearly doubled across the state, outpacing New Franklin. In 2000, there were 234 school districts in the state that spent more per pupil than New Franklin. Last year, there were 357 outspending New Franklin.

New Franklin isn’t spending as much as a lot of other districts, but it still can’t keep up with its costs. The district has run a deficit each of the past three years, Cordel said. It hasn’t cut staff or programs yet, but it attempts to spend finances conservatively, he said.

It has cut back on professional development opportunities for teachers, sending them to smaller, local and less expensive conferences, Cordel said. The district also couldn’t give teachers a cost of living pay raise this year, something it needs to do to stay competitive with other districts, he said.

There’s only so much belt-tightening the district can do, and as costs continue to rise, the district is coming to a point where it needs more revenue, or it’s going to have to make substantial cuts, he said. The district still has cash reserves.

“We’re at the point where we want to be as proactive as possible so we don’t get to the point where we would have to make cuts,” Cordel said. “That’s what we don’t want to do.”

The additional $300,000 a year in revenue would let the district pay off its debt in a few years, and keep it from running a deficit after that, Cordel said. The levy is separate from a $3 million no-tax bond issue voters approved in 2016 to fund the construction of a new gym, ADA improvements and other renovations, Cordel said.

Bonds can only be used to pay for capital improvements like the gym. They can’t be used on teacher salaries, busing or special education, some of the major costs that are straining the district’s budget, Cordel said.

“It’s probably time to start asking some of the local district people to help out more if they can,” he said.

How to vote

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, in Howard and Boone counties.

Howard County voters can check their precinct number at the Missouri Secretary of State’s website, and their polling location at the county clerk’s website, or by calling the clerk’s office at (660) 248-2284. Boone County voters can find their election information at the Boone County Clerk’s website, or by calling the office at (573) 886-4375.

The Howard County Clerk’s Office will be open Saturday, Nov. 2, from 8 a.m. to noon for in-person absentee voting. The Boone County Clerk’s Office will be open the same day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for in-person absentee voting. Absentee ballots can be submitted at either clerk’s office during their regular business hours any time through Nov. 4.