March 28, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we are not on a level playing field? With more than 80 percent of the schools in the state already having a Proposition C waiver in place, our school simply is not on a level financial playing field with the rest of the educational facilities in Missouri. As citizens we have a chance to even the footing for our children next week when we go to the polls and decide the fate of Proposition Two on the Scotland County R-I Ballot.

The issue is whether or not to give our school board the power to control the rollback of the state's one-cent education sales tax. This refund of of that one-cent was given at the time the sales tax was approved by voters to taxpayers in each school district in the state in the form of a rollback on the district's tax levy. Last year in Scotland County that was the equivalent of approximately 60 cents, dropping the levy to just over $3.00 per $100 of assessed valuation.

To put this in perspective, I'll compare our school to a neighboring district with a similar number of students, that already has the Prop C waiver. In 1999, despite having 34 fewer students than SCR-I, the neighboring school district had greater than $1.3 million more in total revenue than SCR-I. That represents roughly 30-percent of SCR-I's $4.5 million budget that year. Keep in mind that district has a higher assessed valuation and had levy of $3.63 compared to the SCR-I levy of $3.02. Landowners don't be afraid, the $1.3 million was not all local tax money, as the higher local figures in turn generated higher revenue through the state foundation formula and federal funding of education as well.

Now I realize that money can't buy you love. It doesn't solve all your problems and you can't take it with you. Still I have to believe that a school district with 30-percent more revenue is going to be able to provide a better learning environment. They will have better facilities, smaller student to teacher ratios, and newer technology just to mention a few benefits of higher revenue.

It all boils down to whether or not you trust your school board. If the waiver is approved, the seven-member board will determine each year if the rollback will be waived, and if so, how much. The waiver does not mean there will not be a tax rollback, it simply means the board can vote to keep a portion of that rollback to help fund the school. I've heard a few people mad about this or that that the school has done in the past. The board represents you. These people are elected to serve the voters. You either need to talk to them about the issues prior to a vote, or better yet, put your name on the ballot to serve.

I'm probably biased. I will have at least two future SCR-I students. Plus it's easier for me to vote yes on this issue since I don't own a few hundred acres of farm ground that is difficult enough to make any money on without higher property taxes. (I'm still in favor of a flat sales tax to replace property taxes.) A little math tells us that if you had $1 million in assessed valuation (that's quite a bit) for each cent the levy rises, your annual tax payment would increase by $100. Of course no one taxpayer in Scotland County has $1 million so the impact would be less than that.

So lets do an example that makes more sense. Say you own 200 acres of prime farm ground. It's good hunting too so that means it's worth at least $1,000 an acre on the St. Louis market. Do that math and the appraised value is $200,000. Farm ground is assessed at 12% of that value, so the assessed valuation would be $24,000. Divide that by 100 and then multiply it by the tax levy (tax is the levy rate per $100 assessed valuation). Under the current levy that means this person paid $721.99 in school tax. If the Prop C waiver passed and the school board voted to raise the levy 20 cents to $3.22, that means the taxpayer would be out an additional $50.

It all boils down to investing in your future. Even if you do not have kids or grandchildren in school, these young people are still your future. In 20 or 30 years, who do you think will be your sheriff and ambulance personnel? Who will be teaching your grandchildren, running the daycare or managing the local grocery store? Won't you want the best educated young people you can have to take care of you at the hospital or the nursing home? Isn't it worth a little higher taxes to secure your future? Not many investments offer better returns.

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