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Swedeborg to hold community forum on proposed tax hike
SWEDEBORG, Mo. (Jan. 12, 2009) — Tax increases are rarely popular, so members of the Swedeborg R-III School Board voted Monday night to sponsor a town hall forum explaining why they’re asking voter approval at a special Feb. 3 election to raise the district’s property tax levy from $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation to what state school officials consider to be an appropriate level of $3.43.

The forum will be held in the school building at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 26.

“How much time do people need to think about that kind of thing?” asked board member Jamie Alexander. “Does it need to be fresh on their mind?”

Board President Chris Black recommended a date close to the election, and board members agreed with the proposal to set the town hall meeting one week before the election.

“Maybe the election will be fresh enough on their mind that they will attend the meeting if we set it halfway close,” Black said.

The proposed 36 percent increase in property taxes would make Swedeborg’s taxes much higher than almost any area school district, but at the November meeting when the tax levy was approved, board members unanimously agreed that the increase is needed so the Swedeborg district can get its full share, estimated at $20,000 per year, of $5 million in state aid for small schools.

Most Pulaski County school districts have the state-mandated minimum property tax levy of $2.75, and even though voters in some districts such as the Crocker R-II School District have approved higher tax levies to pay for special construction projects, no other nearby district comes close to the $3.43 minimum that’s required for a school district to get its full share of state school aid funds.

The actual Swedeborg ballot language calls for a 99-cent increase to $3.74 per $100 of assessed valuation. However, members of school boards, city councils and other tax districts have the right to roll back tax levies approved by voters at their annual tax rate hearing. Swedeborg voters have been asked to approve the 99-cent increase to $3.74 with the understanding that board members will roll it back each year to $3.43 each year. Since property taxes have to be rolled back each year if property value increases exceed the inflation rate, board members have said getting voter approval for a higher tax levy with the understanding the board will roll it back each year is the only way to make sure Swedeborg gets its share of state aid.

Budget issues took up much of the board’s time, along with program reviews.

In reviewing the district’s annual audit, Black cautioned that the board should resume holding end-of-fiscal-year special board meetings in June to amend the budget so the budget corresponds to actual expenses.

District Administrator Ryan Warnol alerted board members that since the district’s funds on deposit are more than $15,000, board members must take bids from area banks to determine which bank should receive Swedeborg’s deposits.

Board members also agreed to investigate whether it’s possible to create a sick-leave pool to which employees could donate their unused leave time, or whether the pool can be leave time for any purpose regardless of illness.

Board members decided last year that they needed to eliminate many of the school’s field trips to save money, and based on reports given Monday night, that decision has worked out well and students don’t miss the elimination of outside trips.

“Truthfully what I’m gathering from a lot of kids is they’re enjoying school more this year,” said board member Wayne King. “I haven’t had one set down yet and tell me what the difference is between this year and last year. I’ve tried to get that out of them. I want to see where they’re coming from, but they won’t go that far. They just say, ‘Hey, I like school better.’”

In other business:

• Board members conducted an in-person review of the district’s library and media center building and approved an evaluation of the district’s library program. Warnol said he’s working to improve the district’s library as part of a process of implementing a district-wide reading program.

“In the past, what’s been happening is (testing and evaluation) has been sporadic,” Warnol said. “On the current (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) that’s in place, when I got to reviewing that, the comprehensive reading plan was a long term goal, so I shifted it to an immediate goal because this is something we have to address with our student’s reading levels and catch those deficiencies.”

Warnol said the district’s second-grade teacher is doing a good job of catching reading problems early but said the district needs to do a better job of improving reading at all grade levels.

• Warnol reported that the week of Jan. 25 to 31 is School Board Recognition Week and presented each board member with certificates of recognition for their work.

• Responding to questions from board members, Warnol said there’s been an increase in the number of students participating in both the school lunch and school breakfast programs. About 25 to 30 students eat breakfast at school compared to 20 to 25 at the beginning of the year, and 45 to 50 students eat lunch compared to 35 to 40 at the beginning of the year. That should bring Swedeborg close to 80 percent participation in the school lunch program, board members said.

“If more children are eating lunches, you know it’s a good meal,” said board member Greg Black.

• Board members approved the first of two readings of a series of policy changes recommended by the Missouri School Boards Association including granting one day of sick leave or personal leave time per month of employment, which is either 10 or 12 days per year depending on the terms of employment, and implementing new rules for student discipline on such issues as cell phone usage.

“It’s sad those have to be issues, but it’s good that they’re being addressed,” Warnol said.

Ballot language of 'Proposition A'

Shall the Board of Education of Swedeborg Reorganized School District No. R-III of Pulaski County, Missouri, be authorized to increase the operating tax levy by ninety-nine cents (99 cents) per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation in order to ensure maximum state funding is received for meeting educational needs?

If this question is approved, the adjusted operating levy of the District is estimated to be $3.43 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation. Currently the operating levy is $2.75 and the actual real impact is estimated to be only sixty-eight cents to meet the state funding requirements.

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