Gainesville school board responds to questions about levy-increase request

Families crowded into the Gainesville Elementary School’s cafeteria during this year’s open house before school started in August. Passing the proposed levy increase would allow the school district to enlarge and “harden” the cafeteria for use as a storm shelter.

Editor’s note: The Gainesville R-V Board of Education has put its proposed operating levy increase back on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election. Here are some frequently asked questions about the proposition, with answers provided by the board. More information will be available at the information Q&A meeting to be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, following the regular board meeting in the high school library. Refreshments will be provided. 

How is Proposition Gainesville Schools on the Nov. 6 ballot different from Proposition Gainesville Bulldogs, which was defeated by 14 votes (out of 1,394 votes cast) in the Aug. 7 election?

The board made two changes to the proposition for the Nov. 6 ballot, and a third change happened automatically due to timing. First, the board voted to phase in the 75-cent levy increase over three years. If approved by Gainesville school district voters on Nov. 6, district taxpayers will see a 25-cent increase in 2019, a 25-cent increase in 2020 and the final 25-cent increase in 2021. Second, the board voted to add a sunset provision to the levy increase, which means, if approved, the increase will expire on Dec. 31, 2043. In August, after the proposition was defeated, the board set the current tax year’s levy at $2.75, following the schedule required by law. This means that even if the proposition passes in November, district residents will not see the first phase of the increase take effect until the 2019 tax year.

How does the Gainesville operating levy compare to other school districts?

The Gainesville school district operates at the state minimum operating levy of $2.75. Out of 516 public school districts in Missouri, only 61 – 12 percent – have the minimum levy of $2.75. The state average is $3.67. If the levy increase passes, Gainesville will reach $3.50 by 2021, which is still lower than the state average and lower than other districts in Ozark County. Currently, Bakersfield’s levy is $4.64, Dora’s is $3.61 and Lutie’s is $3.65.

Why is additional funding needed?

We have not seen a voter-approved tax levy increase in Gainesville since 1993 – 25 years. Each year, we’re underfunded by $1.5 million from the state of Missouri for transportation. That is money we have to make up locally to provide safe transportation for students. Increased funds have been needed for decades, and needs have continued to go unmet. Pay for all district employees falls behind other districts and industries, and each year the district loses a significant number of quality employees due to higher pay elsewhere. Critical facility needs including roof repair, HVAC, kitchen and cafeteria expansion, furniture replacement, preschool expansion, accessibility and safety measures have grown due to limited resources and increasing costs. The district has budgeted very conservatively for decades, and now we’re asking for help from our community.

Why did the board choose to ask for an operating levy increase instead of a debt service levy (bond issue)?

Operating levy funds are used for day-to-day operating expenses, including educating students, paying staff, providing transportation, paying for utilities and maintaining the district’s buildings and grounds, which is what the district needs now. Debt service levy funds can only be used for brick-and-mortar or specific “capital” projects.

What will an increase in operating levy funds provide for the community?

An increase in operating funds will provide a much-needed update to our facilities, including accessibility and safety improvements. Members of our community are invited into our facilities on numerous occasions, such as Grandparents Day (at which we hosted and fed lunch to 400 grandparents last year), graduations, sporting events, parent/teacher conferences, class parties, volunteer opportunities, assemblies and more. The entire community benefits from having a top-notch school. Small, rural districts like Gainesville thrive when their communities are supportive of their schools.

What other options are there for local funds for schools (i.e., why not ask for a sales tax increase)?

An operating levy based on assessed valuation of property and personal property within the district is the only way schools are funded locally. By law, schools are not able to assess funds based on a sales tax.

Is the board planning to build a gym with these funds? If so, why do we need a new gym?

A new, multipurpose gymnasium is included in the plans; however, rumors that the gym is the primary focus or that it is the “only” reason for the levy increase are false. The current gym is in sad shape. It is not ADA compliant. We are not meeting the needs of our visitors with disabilities, whether it be wheelchair accessibility or seating that doesn’t require navigating steep stairs. We also cannot comfortably hold a high school graduation ceremony, for example, in our current gymnasium. Compared to other facilities in the county, we are way behind on our facilities, including our gymnasium.

What area of Ozark County will vote on Proposition Gainesville Schools?

Only those who live in and are registered to vote in the Gainesville School District will be eligible to vote on the proposed operating levy. The Gainesville School District includes residents from seven precincts plus the absentee ballots from those precincts: Barren Fork, Big Creek, Bridges, Dawt, Jackson, Lick Creek and Pontiac. Each school district has its own operating levy. Please note that today, Oct. 10, is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election.

How can I find out how the levy increase will affect me?

An operating levy calculator can be found on the school’s website at Click on “Tax Levy” on the home page and then click on “Operating Levy Calculator.” Residents can also call the Ozark County Collector’s office at 679-4448. However, Collector Bill Hambelton reminds callers that, while his office is glad to provide estimates for the 2019 tax year, which will also include the ambulance tax increase passed earlier this year, residents’ actual tax bills will change if their assessed property and personal property change between now and then.

Ozark County Times

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Gainesville, MO 65655

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