Facing decreased state funding and a drop in student enrollment, the East Newton R-6 School District is asking district voters for help when they take to the polls in the general municipal election on Tuesday, April 2.
The school district is seeking voter approval of a proposed 50-cent levy increase, which would raise the district’s tax rate ceiling from $2.75 to $3.25.
The increase would be phased in at 25-cent increments over two years, with a total adjusted levy of $3.25 in 2014.
Todd McCrackin, East Newton superintendent, said the measure would not automatically increase the levy to the proposed $3.25 maximum, it would merely raise the ceiling, which would allow the district the option of increasing the levy to anything up to $3.25, if needed.
“For the students, the teachers and for the patrons, it would mean a situation where we could maintain our current programs and maintain our current funding status,” McCrackin said. “Missouri, right now, only funds schools at 92 percent funding, for us, that is an annual loss of about $500,000 per year that our district hasn’t been seeing for about four years.”
McCrackin said the district, with a current enrollment of 1,385 students, has seen the total student population drop by 142 students since January 2012, and tied to the departure of those students is also a decrease in funding.
“The reason this is significant is because our school funding from the state is tied to our student population,” he said.
While he suspects that the departure of those students is due to the state of the economy, as families leave to find employment elsewhere, the loss of revenue has forced the district to leave vacated staff positions unfilled, and could eventually force cuts to some school programs and services, McCrackin said.
Since the 2008-2009 school year, the school district has eliminated 13 certified staff member positions and nine support staff positions.
McCrackin said the school district has cut more than $900,000 in expenses.
“We’ll just have to go leaner and leaner and eventually it will be a situation where possibly some programs will be cut,” he said. “We’ve had a 15 percent cut in equipment and supplies in the last three years so we’re running pretty lean right now. We want to give our students and the community the best possible education that they can receive, we just kind of feel like right now our hands are tied.”
McCrackin said while surrounding school districts have set their tax levies at $2.75, being a rural school district, East Newton faces unique funding challenges, as there is a lack of local industry to provide tax dollars for the district.
“Something that’s hurting us is our assessed valuation has been staying pretty steady as far as not trending up like it has in the past,” McCrackin said. “The state foundation formula that funds schools is being under-funded. I would like for the taxpayers to understand that we’re trying to do our very best but when the state doesn’t give us the money that we deserve we have run out of options.”
If approved, the new levy would be decided in August, when the board holds their annual tax rate hearing.
The increase would also be temporary, ending in March 2020 unless a separate ballot issue comes forward to extend the levy.
The school district has held informational meetings to answer voter questions in regards to the proposed levy increase. There are two more informational meetings planned, with the next event set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 18 in the Triway Elementary School cafeteria, in Stella.
The final informational gathering is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 28 at the East Newton High School’s new FEMA shelter.