Blair Oaks voters approve both school propositions; Eugene voters approve one, reject another

Two school districts based in Cole County placed ballot issues to raise staff pay and expand or repair facilities in front of voters Tuesday. Voters in the Blair Oaks School District approved both their propositions, while voters in the Cole R-5 School District in Eugene approved one and rejected the other, according to Tuesday's unofficial election results from Cole and Miller counties.

Proposition 2 for Phase 2, a $9 million bond issue for a Blair Oaks High School expansion, passed with 711 votes, or 75.48 percent of the vote. Proposition 3 Falcon Future, which would raise the operating levy and teacher and staff salaries, passed with 545 votes, or 57.86 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Tuesday general municipal election.

"We're grateful for our wonderful community and their continued support of Blair Oaks," said Blair Oaks Superintendent Ben Meldrum. "This is not something that just happened overnight. Those that came before me have paved a great road, and I say all the time that we've got an outstanding community with great families and great kids and great staff."

Proposition Supporting Students, which would repair and renovate parts of the Cole R-5 campus, received 220 no votes in Cole County and 103 in Miller County, which amounted to a 50.71 percent no vote, defeating the proposition. It needed four-sevenths (57.14 percent) approval to pass. Proposition Supporting Teachers, which would raise the operating levy and teacher and staff pay, needed only a simple majority yes vote to pass. It received 217 yes votes in Cole County and 116 in Miller County, amounting to 52.11 percent approving the measure.

"It's good to see the operating tax piece pass," Superintendent Charley Burch said.

"Both are a need. Right now, the operating side for the district is probably the bigger struggle, and it gives us a little more flexibility in terms of what we can do with the funds," Burch added.

The money will help support staff and deal with rising costs due to inflation, he said.

Blair Oaks School District

Proposition 2 allows the district to borrow $9.25 million to expand the high school without increasing the tax levy.

The district will build a new agriculture building and add new classrooms, a weight room and a gym lobby at the high school. District personnel have also said the expansion will increase safety because it brings hundreds of students that pass between the high school and the middle school -- where some classes have continued to be held because of lack of facilities in the new building -- under their own roofs.

The project includes two business classrooms, a broadcast studio, a family and consumer science room and eight other classrooms.

With the removal of mezzanine classrooms, the gym bleachers can be expanded and practice spaces could be available with retractable bleachers.

Meldrum said construction will likely begin toward the end of the year. After results are certified, the district will work on finalizing the design, then move into the bidding process. Meldrum said the projects should be done by the end of 2025.

Proposition 3 increases the operating levy by 30 cents, allowing the base salary of certified staff to increase by $1,000, and classified and support staff to a minimum of $15 per hour.

The district has said the move will help the district retain its employees and continue to recruit educators and staff.

The proposition will result in an annual increase of $57 in taxes for a $100,000 piece of property.

"It's a huge relief, to be quite honest with you," Meldrum said upon seeing the election results Tuesday. "We're just very thankful for the continued support of our community and the fact that they recognize the quality product that we continue to try to put out and recognize the importance of supporting our teachers and our students."

Two board members were also elected to three-year terms on the Blair Oaks School Board: Dalton Fifer and Luke Fitzpatrick. They will replace Tim Luebbering and Logan Gratz, who did not file for re-election.

Cole R-5 School District, Eugene

On the heels of a resounding 87 percent approval of an April 2022 bond issue, the results of Cole R-5's 2024 ballot propositions were less enthusiastic.

The 2022 bond issue resulted in the addition of the preschool as well as roof replacements, HVAC and parking lot repairs, and improvements to the track and bleachers.

This year, the district asked voters to approve Proposition Supporting Students, a $2 million plan to add a secure vestibule to the high school entrance, replace roofs and repair HVAC systems, add to science classrooms and improve the agriculture shop. It would have increased the debt service property tax levy by 14 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

With less than 50 percent approval, the voters rejected the proposition.

"I completely understand where taxpayers are coming from. This is probably one of the toughest times ever to ask for taxpayers to increase their taxes, so I completely understand that," Burch said.

Proposition Supporting Teachers raises the operating tax levy by 68 cents per $100 dollars of assessed valuation to raise base pay for teachers from $34,000 to $40,000. It also increases classified salaries and covers the increased cost of general operations, according to Burch.

Eugene's base pay is currently one of the lowest in the region, behind Russellville, New Bloomfield, Linn, Blair Oaks, Eldon, Jefferson City, Camdenton and School of the Osage.

Burch thanked people for their support, including patrons who started a Facebook group to promote the issues.

"The fact that we're going to be able to do some things to support the district, support the students through additional funds, no matter what we get, is a win," Burch said.

Two board members were also elected to three-year terms on the Cole R-5 School Board. Ryan Carrender and Larry Kemna both ran for re-election unopposed.

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