The Jackson R-2 School Board approved plans about the district’s facilities, capital projects and financial condition during its Nov. 8 regular meeting, which recommended asking voters for a bond issue and a tax increase.
Each plan was created by one of the district’s strategic planning committees, including district staff members, board members, parents and community members.
The plans ask the board to consider a 91-cent tax increase, including a bond issue to add facility improvements throughout the district and a tax levy to fund future raises to staff and increase the district’s reserve balance.
“At some point, we are going to have to make some decisions,” Superintendent Scott Smith said to the board. “The only way that we can continue the Jackson way, continue the programs that we have and continue educating all the students we have is through a levy issue and a bond issue. Those are two things the board will have to consider.”
The two issues would be separate votes put forward to voters, with the bond issue requiring four-sevenths of the vote (57.14%) to pass and the tax levy requiring a simple majority.
“A bond alone will not fix our issue,” Smith said. “A levy alone will not fix our issue. It takes both of them together to totally fix our concerns and the financial stresses of the district has right now.”
The district’s tax rate has not increased from $3.80 since voters passed a tax increase 17 years ago.
The bond issue would cover various facility improvements over the next five years as recommended by the facility plan – including a performance arts center and classroom addition at Jackson High School, new classrooms and a new gym at North Elementary School, a new facility for the at-risk/ACES program and safety improvements throughout the district.
Smith said these improvements would help combat the district’s enrollment growth over the past decade, with the district growing from 4,874 students during the 2012-2013 school year to 5,805 students currently.
Smith said the majority of the district’s growth has been at the high school, which includes students who move into district and those who attend private schools or are homeschooled before going to JHS.
“In the last five year, we have grown by 303 students at the high school,” he said, adding that the programs offered at JHS have accelerated this growth.
Smith said the 1,200-seat performing arts center and high school expansion would correct congestion in the hallways, provide needed classrooms and prepare for future growth.
“We have around 900 kids involved in performing arts,” Smith said. “We don’t really have a structure that’s large enough to house the programs we have, and it’s been a growing program for years.”
Smith said the classroom additions at the high school and North Elementary would include space that could be finished later by the district.
“The thought is to try to build a structure that would allow for growth,” Smith said. “We would finish the structures that would need to be finished at this time, but rough in the rest of it for our maintenance crew or local construction company to finish as we need them.”
The district would also plan to build a new facility for the at-risk/ACES program, providing appropriate education for these students and opening up classroom space at the high school and South Elementary School.
Smith said they did look at other potential facility improvements, including a new high school that was deemed too expensive.
“We can’t afford that,” Smith said. “It would cost $250 million.”
The bond would also cover new building roofs, kitchen improvements, new school buses, technology improvements, additional security cameras and new air lock rooms in entrances at Gordonville, Millersville, Orchard Drive and the high school. In addition, the bond would allow the district to pay off existing lease purchase debt.
Without the tax increase, Smith said the district might have to freeze salaries, cap insurance for employees, cut down on classroom supplies, reduce extracurricular programs, reduce technology, reduce transportation offerings and potentially close buildings.
“Ultimately, student success would not be what we experience today if we don’t do anything,” Smith said.
Smith said the tax levy passing would allow salaries throughout the district to be comparable with competing districts in the area.
“We used to be the highest-paid district in the area,” Smith said. “We’ve lost that edge.”
The district did increase staff salaries by 3% last year, but Smith said each salary increase costs the district around $420,000 including benefits for each one percent increase. “That has a lasting impact on the budget,” he said.
Smith added that the revenue from the tax levy would also allow the district to continue transportation for students within three miles of school and for class sizes to decrease or remain low.
The district’s percentage of unrestricted funds, which is anticipated to be around 14% at the end of this school years, has steadily decreased from around 30% during the 2016-2017 school year.
“Of those 17 years [at the current tax rate], we’ve been able to do a lot of great things,” Smith said. “There have been a lot of improvements in this district, but as a result of not increasing our revenue source, you are starting to see us having to dip into our reserves on a regular basis.”
The district’s tax rate at $3.80 is the lowest in Cape Girardeau County – with Nell Holcomb having a $4.07 tax rate, Cape Girardeau having a tax rate of $4.1567, Oak Ridge having a $4.3322 tax rate and Delta having a tax rate of $4.45.
The strategic planning committees recommended a $0.47 operation tax levy increase, which would generate an additional $3.1 million for the district, and a $0.44 debt levy increase, which would cover a $60 million bond issue.
If both issues passed, the total $0.91 tax rate increase would increase yearly property taxes by approximately $345.80 for a family owning a $200,000 house.
In other action:
• The board recognized the Jackson High School cross country students who competed at the state competition, where the boys team took fourth place. The team had not placed that high since 1977. Members of the cross-country team individually signed the state trophy during the meeting.
• The board approved an evaluation of the district’s transportation program. The district runs 58 bus routes, in addition to special education, early childhood and Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center routes.
Assistant Superintendent Keenan Kinder said the district currently needs about 12 more drivers. The district’s buses travel more than 3,000 miles and transports around 3,000 students each school day.