JC School board bumps up debt levy

After four years of voluntarily rolling back the Jefferson City Public School’s debt service levy — saving taxpayers about $2.2 million — the Board of Education has raised it again.

For taxpayers, the increase is quite small: about $5 annually on a $150,000 house.

The additional funding will allow the district to pay off money borrowed to build Pioneer Trail Elementary School, expand libraries at several other buildings and provide enough classrooms for full-day kindergarten. The borrowed money also allows school leaders create a new home for the district’s pre-school and early childhood special education programming.

The last time the district did not “roll back” the debt service levy was 2008. Between 2009 and 2011, the district used federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to temporarily protect taxpayers from higher taxes. Between 2011 and 2013 board members resisted raising taxes on families in a challenging economy.

The new debt service levy for 2013 will be $0.2220 per $100 of assessed valuation, up from $0.2056. The district is authorized to levy more than that and will still be voluntarily rolling back about 24 cents.

Jason Hoffman, chief financial officer for the district, said raising the debt service levy is important for maintaining the district’s AA+ bond rating.

The debt service levy allows the district to build new facilities and invest in capital projects. The operating levy will remain the same at $3.4714, for a total of $3.6934.

Hoffman noted that Jefferson City’s tax burden compares favorably with other nearby school districts where taxes are higher, such as Columbia where the rate is $5.40 and Southern Boone where the rate is $4.98.

Jefferson City taxpayers also pay less compared with districts similar in size. Districts with 5,000 to 9,000 students have an average tax rate of $4.69 and districts that have between 9,000 and 15,000 students have an average rate of $5.18. Jefferson City also falls below the state average which is $4.04.

In other business, the board:

• Introduced a new strategic plan to be finally voted on in September. The document — which school leaders have been crafting for months — sets new goals for the district’s faculty and staff.

• Learned the district is resubmitting its proposal for a federal grant which it narrowly lost last year. Notification is expected to come in December, Superintendent Brian Mitchell said.

“We were one point away from winning a $20 million Race to the Top grant. We are reapplying and we feel good about that grant,” he said, noting the competition is for a smaller amount of money this time.

• Mitchell also told the board that he and his staff are in the process of pulling together a committee charged with examining the long-term facility needs of the school district.

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