SJSD Board of Education reviews options for possible new tax levy

American ViewPoint Inc. conducted the 400 person phone survey in early December, which was funded by the St. Joseph School District Foundation.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 8:36 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph School District Board of Education members got their first look Wednesday at the results of a community phone survey gauging the public's opinion of a possible new tax levy.

American ViewPoint Inc. conducted the 400 person phone survey in early December, which was funded by the St. Joseph School District Foundation. 

Results showed that 62 percent of those surveyed opposed a 75-cent levy. A 63-cent levy with either a 5-year or 10-year sunset clause showed voters were equally split, with 48-percent of those surveyed supporting a 10-year sunset and 47% backing a 5-year sunset. 

According to the survey, when voters were told the levy would help pay for enhanced security and maintenance at all schools, 53 percent of voters said they would support a 63-cent levy.

“The takeaways here are that the community will and wants to support public education in the St. Joseph School District. It’s just that we need to show them a plan and how we are going to invest that money wisely,” said Board of Education President Seth Wright.

“If we do a good job of communicating and are able to explain the need, I think that makes people feel more comfortable and then they start leaning more towards ‘okay at least let’s give that a try,’" said St. Joseph School District Superintendent Doug Van Zyl. "They might not jump all the way over to 100% trust, but at least it allows us the opportunity to build that.” 

While the results of the survey leave board members hopeful, the reality of the district's finances remain.

“It just brings us back to the funding that we had 10 years ago," said Van Zyl. "Not only are we trying to do what’s best for our kids but so is every other school district. If we’re just re-establishing back to a level where we were at, yes, it does move us forward a little bit, but every other school district around us has been continuing to move forward. We still have a large gap between ourselves and other school districts as far as it comes to what they have to offer when it come to opportunities and facilities. So staying stagnant is really falling behind."

The district was forced to balance a budget with $7.5 million dollar deficit after a $1.15 tax levy failed last November. With no additional revenue coming in board members fear for more cuts could become a reality.

“Doing nothing is not an option. If we don’t do anything then will be looking at a several million dollar deficit and we don’t have enough money in our reserves. We would have to find a way to find additional revenue or we’re going to have to be making some other cuts,” said Wright.

“We may have to cut extracurriculars and things that aren’t necessarily required for us to have, but they’re activities that we love to have to keep our kids well rounded. If students don’t get those same opportunities as other school districts it puts them behind,” said Van Zyl.

The board said they’ll use the survey results to guide their decision on the amount of a potential tax levy and sunset clause length. The deadline to put an item on the April 2019 ballot is January 22, 2019.

To view the tax levy survey report, click here.

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