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story.lead_photo.caption Blair Oaks High School in Wardsville

The Board of Education of the Blair Oaks R-2 school district set its tax rate Tuesday night, ahead of the construction of the district's new high school.

Blair Oaks' new high school project will "likely go out (to) bid near the first of the year. A contract will likely be awarded to a general contractor in January 2020. Groundbreaking is expected in February 2020," according to the district's 2019-20 budget, which was also approved at Tuesday night's school board meeting.

The district's tax rate was set Tuesday night at the level voters approved in April — $4.26 per $100 of assessed valuation, reflecting the 30-cent increase to the district's operating levy that voters approved to pay for staffing and operating the new high school.

The new high school is expected to open for students in August 2021. Collecting the increased operating levy sooner makes it easier on the district's finances by giving the flexibility to add staff over time.

During the 2019-20 school year, Blair Oaks will employ 147 full-time and part-time staff. Salaries, benefits and retirement costs add up to 67.7 percent of the district's operating expenses.

The district's tax rate in 2018 was $3.96.

Blair Oaks has not yet sold the bonds voters also approved in April to pay for construction of the new high school, with the sale delayed until sometime during the 2019-20 school year in order to avoid paying unnecessary interest expenses and in a bid to get lower interest rates.

The district's assessed valuation grew by 3.31 percent, or about $3.66 million, since last year. New construction — about $2.87 million — accounted for most of the growth.

Residential and personal property continue to account for the vast majority of the district's assessed valuation — residential property, 71.4 percent of assessed value; and personal property, 22.5 percent.