Licking Schools seek answer to building and repair needs

Photo by Shari Harris
Licking R-VIII School Administrator Cristina Wright used a slide show to share information about the school board and administration’s struggle to keep up with repairs and meet the needs of the students at the current levy rate. Members of the school board were available for questions as well.
By Shari Harris

Tuesday, July 16, the Licking R-VIII School Board and Administration hosted a meeting inviting community input to meet their building and campus repair needs. A good crowd for a summer meeting gathered in the FEMA gym. There they were treated to cookies and refreshments made by Mr. and Mrs. Maddox as Superintendent Cristina Wright used a slide show to explain the building and repair issues.
The school district currently owes around 1.2 million with an annual payment of around $100,000. This debt is partly related to the FEMA gym and the heating and cooling system for the high school gym building. The 99-cent bond issue which failed in the spring election would have provided enough money to build the elementary addition and to pay off this preexisting debt, freeing up the money spent on the annual payments for necessary repairs to the existing buildings and campus. The failure of the bond issue wasn’t just a “No” to an elementary addition, it was also a “No” to funding necessary repairs.
The school board and administration have revised their strategy as a result, and have tightened their belts even further. Last year, the school was budgeted to spend $7.7 million, and with delaying repairs and making other cuts, the district was able to finish their fiscal year spending only $7.5 million. But there is a minimum standard of upkeep required for safety. An overall assessment of the school buildings, parking lots, track, and other outdoor areas was completed with a five-year repair plan developed to meet this minimum standard of upkeep. The cost per year for this plan is an average $112,400.
But this plan does not meet the existing challenges the district faces with the 24-year-old trailers which were designed to provide additional classroom space for 10-years. Some of the issues with the trailers include heating and cooling inefficiency; students must walk outside to enter and exit the trailer, even during a severe weather threat; safety from intruders is reduced when students are outside the main building; and the trailers are past their expected lifespan, with creaking, uneven floors and with a wall that can be pushed out enough to see daylight.
A tax levy question has been proposed for the November election. An 85-cent tax levy would allow for construction to begin on the elementary addition in the spring. This would also fund the 5-year repair plan. A lower, 79-cent tax levy would delay the start time for construction. Neither amount would repay the existing debt.
A $200,000 appraised value of a home has an assessed value of $33,330. The annual expense for the 85-cent levy increase would be $323 per year, or $26.92. Personal property of $30,000 is assessed at $9,999 and would be $84.99 per year, or $7.08 per month. According to an article “Lessons from the Average American’s Food Expenses, by Trent Hamm, the average American household spends $263 on food outside of the home. By eating at home one or two times more per month, this $32 per month increase in the tax levy could be met. A Missouri Property Tax Credit Claim is a program available to certain senior citizens and 100 percent disabled individuals which can help those on fixed incomes meet the increased expense.
Mr. Rinne fielded questions from the audience. One question dealt with the new assessments in the county, and whether it would be better to see how the new assessments would affect the budget before asking for a levy. Mrs. Wright stated that the new assessments are estimated to add about $80,000 to the annual budget, however, in the same time period, employee costs are anticipated to increase $100,000. Over the past 25 years, the tax levy has remained at $2.75, the minimum allowed by law. In those two and a half decades, the cost of living has increased; insurance rates for employees have skyrocketed; food, transportation, and energy costs have increased; and the campus has aged and the cost of repairing it has increased. The school board has managed to meet the demands of operating the school with the lowest levy allowable, but after 25 years, it has become impossible to continue to do this.
What if the population of the school decreases? Mrs. Wright shared that the student population of the elementary has been relatively stable over the past 10 years, remaining at about 800. The elementary addition is not intended to meet the needs of a larger student population, but to meet the needs of the students currently attending the school.
Can construction costs be reduced? Metal buildings were one suggestion. Metal buildings have been shown to have more moisture issues and be less energy efficient. Also, they erode faster. The metal building at the high school has higher associated repair costs than the brick and mortar buildings from the 1930s. Doing the construction incrementally was discussed. The overall construction cost would increase significantly due to the need for more exterior walls, changing of fire walls, and other issues.
The board commitment to keeping well-rounded students was expressed, and no current cuts to sports or arts are planned. But if upkeep continues to be put off, eventual decline will be expected. A decline in the school translates as less successful students, more students not returning to the community after graduation, fewer new families moving into the area, a decline in the talent of the teaching staff, and an effect on the overall wealth of the community.
School board member Roy Kinder stated, “We’re committed to providing an excellent school.” He went on to explain that in order to remain above a low quality or average school, the district needs “to get to average on our intake of money.”
The school board and administration plan to have more community meetings and welcome your input and questions. Bring your ideas and questions and be a part of solving the financial issues facing the school district.



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