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USD 247 Capital Outlay passes - KOAM TV 7

USD 247 Capital Outlay passes

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Cherokee, KS - Nearly a week after a Special Election, the USD 247 Board of Education has learned the final results. With 723 Yes votes and 699 No votes, the voters have granted the school district the authority to collect up to 8 mils for Capital Outlay. Possible capital expenses include the district's required share of a tornado safe room grant at the Southeast Elementary School, handicap accessibility compliance improvements, payment towards the 2008 energy efficiency and remodeling loan, maintenance of facilities, the purchase and maintenance of school buses, and more.

The Board had passed a resolution to collect funds in June, but a petition was filed and a public vote was required. On Tuesday October 7 the Special Election was held: Yes-693, No-679, but there were 70 provisional ballots. On Monday the 13th, Crawford County Commissioners determined 34 or their 50 provisional ballots could be counted; and, Cherokee County Commissioners determined 16 of their 20 provisional ballots could be counted. The final vote: Yes-723, No-699.

The final numbers show a divide between the communities that make up USD 247. While more than 70% of the voters voted Yes in Cherokee and Weir, nearly 85% of the voters in McCune voted against the Capital Outlay resolution. USD 247 Public Information Officer Chris Wilson said this is a clear indicator that there is still a lot of anger about the McCune schools being closed.

“USD 247 Southeast has to educate the students who attend here - the problem is how to continue that purpose, and quell the anger and heal the wounds over the historical issues in McCune,” said Wilson.

The USD 247 Board of Education hopes one step towards that healing process is working out an official lease arrangement to let the City of McCune use the school campus there. The Board of Education has offered to lease the campus to the City of McCune at a rate of $1 per year for the next 25 years.

Communications with the City have been hampered by the “Save McCune” Facebook group.

“The actions of a few extremists blocked legitimate attempts to improve the situation,” Wilson said. “They hired an attorney and approached the Oswego School District to try to have them take the McCune school and nearly half of our territory from us through a petition to the state. That is when our attorneys got involved. The actions of a few forced current and possible future legal responses. They also disrupted positive interactions with the City of McCune. The district wants a true and realistic dialogue with the city itself. An independent group demanding the district be divided, intentionally disrupting the district, and trying to prevent funds for mandatory expenses is not facilitating that dialogue. It is attempted blackmail. We want to find a productive and efficient use for the McCune building and hope we can work something out with the city itself. We have to find solutions that are best for our communities and our students.”

Wilson said in the weeks leading up to the election there was a lot of misinformation being spread about the district in how the funds would be collected and in how the district is spending its funds.

“Specifically, Save McCune has been using the tax issue as a means to attack the school district further,” Wilson said. “These individuals complain about the tax rate yet have stated publicly that they want the district to be dissolved and their territory be given to the Oswego School District, which has a higher tax rate than USD 247 even if we collect the maximum for capital expenses.”

Wilson is referring to a June 10 post on the Save McCune Facebook page that states “we are exploring a petition to call for a vote to dissolve USD 247”. On July 30, the same group stated the petition against the Capital Outlay tax would be withdrawn if USD 247 would discuss transferring the McCune grade school and tax land to USD 504 Oswego.

“USD 247 Southeast would have to give up nearly half of its territory to Oswego – that's according to the map and emailed statement the Save McCune Group itself provided to the district, “Wilson said. “That area accounts for less than 1/3 of our region's total population and giving territory away to another district would severely hurt our school district financially even further. This is not about tax dollars for Save McCune. They want to destroy our school district.”

Wilson said the district has been accused of closing two school buildings this school year, not one. It has also been accused of buying property to build a new school.

“Only McCune was closed and there are no plans to purchase property or build a new school building,” Wilson said. “Weir now holds all PreKindergarten through 4th grade students and was renamed Southeast Elementary School. The old Cherokee elementary now has 5th through 8th grade students and is now the Southeast Junior High School. And Southeast High School still has 9th through 12th grade students. As for the possibility of a new school building, our district is losing students and there is no viable reason to add to our already tight budget.”

Wilson said false information has been spread that USD 247 will have no costs for the elementary tornado safe room grant. “The FEMA grant requires a 25% district share that will cost us $105,000,” Wilson said. “Donations can be accepted to help with this district cost, but only $200 from the Weir Senior Citizens has been received. FEMA did not qualify Weir City improvements to the parking lot as a contribution to the shelter. The $200 and pledges from student groups combine for a grand total of less than $1,000. The district will have to pay the balance.”

Wilson said each year the USD 247 Board of Education members will decide to collect between 0 to 8 mils for capital expenses.

“While, it's true that the authority to collect the tax is permanent, it is not true to state that the tax rate collected itself is permanent,” Wilson said. “Our school board members have a documented history of using the levy only when it was necessary - a lot of people forget that our board members are taxpayers too. Also, the rate cannot increase by 8 mils each year - from 8, to 16, to 24, and so on. By law a maximum of only 8 mils can be collected for Capital Outlay.”

USD 247 Southeast has also been accused of being the only school district in Crawford County requesting the maximum for Capital Outlay.

“This is actually true but it is entirely out of context – even with 8 mils for Capital Outlay we still have the lowest total rate in all of Crawford County,” Wilson said. “Our situation is not unique. The state is providing matching aid for Capital Outlay which has encouraged districts to raise their Capital Outlay as well. Chetopa-St. Paul, Labette County and even Oswego are all collecting 8 mils this year. Oswego also has a school bond tax. Again, the school district Save McCune wants to be a part of is collecting the state maximum for Capital Outlay and has a higher total mil levy than USD 247 Southeast.”

Wilson said he is encouraging patrons to use the Kansas State Department of Education (www.ksde.org) website to see for themselves the accuracy of the district's decreasing revenues, rising expenses, and/or decisions where money is spent, and to compare actual and budgeted expenses and revenues to other Kansas districts.

“The timing of the Capital Outlay funding makes this a win-win situation,” Wilson said. “It prevented cuts in funding for instruction and because our total tax rate dropped over 15 mils compared to last year, even with the 8 mils for Capital Outlay we still have one of the lowest rates in our corner of the state and our property owners still see a net 7 mil decrease.”

Wilson said any increases in taxes collected due to property valuation increases are offset by a declining enrollment. Enrollment determines state funding. USD 247 budgeted for 614 students but since 592 enrolled, the district only get the funding for 592 in local taxes.

“The state money our district gets is decreasing each year and may continue to do so for the next 5 to 7 years because the number of younger students coming in is less than the number of students graduating,” Wilson said. “We will eventually level off but we are going to lose funding until then and the state funding formula will force local property taxes to decrease each year accordingly. Having the Capital Outlay allows us to generate $229,000 in local money and another $111,000 in matching state aid this year. These funds will pay for many mandatory items. Without Capital Outlay this money would have had to come from other accounts, including funds that directly affect instruction. We are glad such cuts have been avoided and the district can refocus on its primary mission of educating students.”

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