Jefferson City School District leaders expect to bring a bond issue to voters in April 2022 to address overcrowding in grades K-8, and Board of Education candidates say they anticipate some resistance from the community if the solution requires a tax increase.
Jefferson City Board of Education incumbents Ken Enloe and Lindsey Rowden, as well as challenger Ian Shadrick, are vying for the two available seats on the April 6 ballot.
The district's K-8 buildings have been overcrowded since 2014, and 11 of 15 schools use trailers. District leaders are assessing district needs and exploring several options for a solution, including two fifth- through sixth-grade centers — which the district previously considered putting on the April 2020 ballot — two fifth- through eighth-grade centers or another elementary school and middle school.
The district can borrow $80 million for new buildings without raising the tax rate, Chief Financial and Operating Officer Jason Hoffman said. But the district would need to get voter approval to authorize borrowing the money for the new buildings.
"Similar to extending a city or county road tax, voter approval is still required to obtain authority to issue the bonds, even though there would not be a tax rate increase," JC Schools Chief Financial Officer Jason Hoffman said.
Some options that might be considered could exceed beyond the $80 million bonding capacity and a tax rate increase would have to be submitted to voters for approval.
As JC Schools leaders explore several options to address overcrowding, the school board candidates on the April 6 ballot are awaiting more information and community feedback before determining the best solution.
Each candidate said it's important to evaluate all options to determine which one is the best solution overall.
Shadrick said the board will need to determine which solution is the best option for students and the community long term, "especially given that those tax dollars are coming from more than just" JC Schools families.
"It's got to be inclusive of the entire community in making sure that tax dollars are well spent," he said.
If the board does approve a solution that would require a tax increase, Shadrick said, the board would have to justify its decision and inform the community to assure people it's the best option.
It's important for board members to help voters — whether they have children in the district or not — understand what the process was to determine the best solution and why it's the best option, he said. It will be important for the community to understand why the district needs new buildings and what that means for the long-term success of the district — particularly students, he said.
Shadrick said it's "very possible" there will be resistance from the public if the option the board approves requires a tax increase, so it's important to ensure there is community buy-in.
"If you can work to ensure that community buy-in from a number of angles, that has potential to increase that potential passing," Shadrick said. "Obviously, a bond is never a guarantee, but helping folks understand why it's important and the implications of what it can do usually goes a long way."
The district needs to take several approaches to receive community input, he said, such as direct conversations, focus groups or virtual methods.
"Administrators need to be mindful of including groups that may have felt as though they weren't included previously," he said. "They really need to look at multiple ways to reach out to particular groups that may not feel as heard."
Rowden said she will look to the chief financial officer to make the best financial recommendations for the overcrowding solution.
She said she wants people to know the district and school board wouldn't ask for a tax increase unless it was necessary, and she would hope the community "would have the best interest of our kids in mind and know that this is important for the district to be able to teach all of our kids and have great facilities for teachers and staff."
"My job as a school board member is to keep the best interest of all of our patrons in mind," Rowden said. "Strong schools build strong communities, and so I would hope that all of our community members would support us and know that what we're doing is the best for our kids and the best for the future of our community."
Rowden said she anticipates resistance from the community if the solution requires a tax increase.
"The community always is a little apprehensive when we're doing these large projects and ask them for more money," she said.
She said she believes the district does a good job of informing the community on issues like this.
"When we passed J+C, (Superintendent Larry Linthacum) did over 100 presentations and was able to spend a lot of one-on-one time answering questions," Rowden said. "I would just encourage our community to stay informed and to ask those questions and be open minded — because the kids in our community really are the future of Jefferson City and Central Missouri."
Rowden said the district has not grown its facilities at the rate it's needed to, so addressing K-8 overcrowding will make up for the deficiency the district has had over the last 25 years.
"It seems like we have a lot of projects happening, but we're just making up ground for the growth that our community's had over the last 25 years," she said.
Enloe, who was a co-chair on the Outreach Committee for the J+C bond campaign to build Capital City High School and renovate the existing Jefferson City High School, said it's important for the board to be informed and get input from the community and inform the community on the decision.
"I think we've shown, historically, the community will respond if we do a good job of researching and making sure we're being good stewards of the taxpayers dollars and then communicating that," Enloe said.
Communication is key, he said.
"If we end up going back and asking for a bond issue that does require a tax increase, it's going to be incumbent on us to make sure we've done our research and that we've evaluated all of the options and then that we communicate effectively to the taxpayers why we're proposing that," he said.
There's always going to be resistance when it comes to a tax increase, Enloe said, but it's the board's responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
He said quality schools are an important part of the overall economic development of the community because they attract new businesses and jobs.
"Good schools, good health care — those are at the top of the list of the things that companies look for — and so it does benefit everyone, ultimately," he said. "If the school systems are strong on the public and parochial side, then that's a very significant driver in economic health and growth."
Even if the solution requires a tax increase, it will benefit everyone — even those who don't have children in the district, Enloe said.
"For the majority of people, their home is one of their biggest financial assets, and so if property values are escalating and appreciating because of the health and strength of our economic environment, then everybody benefits from that," he said.
He said its a challenge to convince people a tax-increase is necessary and beneficial, and it's the responsibility of the board and administration to build trust and confidence from the public.
"There's no question that that's going to be a task that we'll have to undertake and do effectively in order to get the support necessary," he said.