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Questions & Answers for the Upcoming Lawson R-XIV Levy Increase Question on August 3, 2021


The Lawson R-XIV School District is seeking approval from voters to add 95-cents to the operating levy in the upcoming August 3, 2021 election.  Below are frequently asked questions with Superintendent, Roger Schmitz, providing the answers.

Q. Why is an operating tax levy important for a school district?

A: Property taxes are a primary funding source for school districts and the major local revenue source for a district.  According to the latest data, local revenues provide 47.86% of total revenue for the Lawson R-XIV School District, which is two percent higher than in 2017.  The 2% increase in local revenue dependence is equal to a 2% drop in the percentage of revenue provided by the state during the same time.  Essentially, state funding is declining, forcing the District to rely more on local revenues to operate.  For Lawson R-XIV, the burden created by the decline in state revenue is greater than the revenue currently provided through the local tax levy. Without additional local revenue, the result is deficit spending to continue to operate the District.  

Q: Will a “no” vote on the property tax levy increase question lower my taxes?

A: No, the current tax rates would remain in effect and would be calculated annually by state law and approved by the Board of Education each August.

Q: What question does the Lawson R-XIV School District have on the April ballot?

A: There is a 95 cent (0.95) per $100 of assessed valuation tax levy increase proposal on the ballot.

Q. How will the levy increase question appear on the ballot?
A:  The following is the question voters will consider on August 3rd:

“Shall the school board of Lawson R-XIV School District be authorized to increase the operating tax levy for the purpose of providing funds to pay for increased costs of educational programs, contracted services, retaining quality teachers and staff, and meeting increased operational costs by ninety-five cents ($0.95) per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation?

If this proposition is approved, the adjusted operating levy of the school district is estimated to be $3.9047 (total operating levy after increase) per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation.”

Q: If the tax levy increase passes how will the funds be used?

A1: We are committed to increasing the salaries of our staff with the additional revenue.  Salaries and benefits account for the largest portion of the operating budget. The funds will be used to improve and maintain our salary and benefit offerings for all staff, enabling the district to retain and attract quality staff to educate our students. We don’t want to be a training facility for other districts located in the Northland. The District’s Strategic Plan has a goal of a starting salary (base) of $40,000 by 2030 for a first-year teacher.  The passage of the levy increase issue should allow the District to achieve this goal by 2025.  The current base salary is $36,750 for 2021-22.

A2: The additional funds will be used to support the general operations of the district. Funds will also be used to expand and maintain technology, as well as cover the increased costs of goods and services such as contracted transportation and virtual learning as required by state law.  The District currently does not have the ability to cover these increased costs and make significant salary increases without annual deficit spending.

Q.  Are the revenues from the levy increase going to be spent entirely on new expenditures?

A.  No, the decline in state revenue has resulted in a greater burden on local funds to continue operations.  Local revenues are mainly based on property taxes.  The combined negative effects of the Great Recession and the overall decline in enrollment has forced the District to utilize reserve funds at times over the past decade to obtain a balanced budget.  The additional revenue will be utilized to offset the decline in state revenues for increased operating costs.  These are existing expenditures that require a larger budget each year to continue to operate.

Q.  How much will my taxes increase if the levy increase passes?
For every $100,000 of appraised value*, a homeowner will pay an additional $180.50 a year.

Appraised Value*

Monthly

Annually

$100,000

$15

$180

$150,000

$23

$271

$200,000

$30

$361

$250,000

$37

$451


*This table illustrates the proposed increase in property taxes based on a home’s appraised value, which is the approximate market value of a home as established by the county assessor. Assessed value for residential property is calculated at 19 percent of appraised value.

Q.  When was the last time the District asked for an operating levy increase?
A:  The last operating levy increase was approved by voters in 1984. That 30-cent increase raised the operating levy at the time to $4.40; however, that amount has reduced to the current $2.9547 over the past 36 years. The conservative spending and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars has allowed the district to operate over the past 3 decades without a tax increase. We expect that practice to continue.

Q. Doesn’t the District have a debt service levy and what’s the difference from an operating levy?
A:  Yes, the District has a 95-cent debt service levy in addition to the current $2.9547 operating levy.  An operating levy provides funding for the ongoing day-to-day operations of our schools, such as paying faculty and staff, funding utilities, supplies and facility maintenance and repairs. A debt service levy pays the debt of a bond issue (like those the District passed in 2019 and 2020) approved by voters when a school district needs to borrow money for major renovations, new construction or even large purchases of equipment. The debt service levy pays the debt off over time and these funds that can ONLY be used for that purpose. Funds approved for a bond issue cannot be used for operating expenses. 

Q.  So why is the District asking for increased monies for operations and constructing buildings at the same time? 

A:  As mentioned in the previous question, a debt service levy is required by law to pay only on debt for buildings and renovations.  It’s a guarantee to the taxpayer that the district will pays its ‘mortgage’ obligations.  The Lawson R-XIV school district has had a 95-cent debt service levy for a number of years that has allowed the district to construct additions to the high school, middle school, and Southwest to meet enrollment needs.  Additionally, it constructed the Sellers Performing Arts Center, the high school renovation adding the new Library, and The Barker Center.  The debt service levy will also be used to pay for the construction of the Southwest Safe Room that is being partially funded by a $1.7million FEMA grant.  As mentioned in the previous question, the operating levy is used exclusively for the operating purposes of the district.  The overall decline in state funding is forcing the district to rely more on local funds to operate.

Q. What are the District’s sources of operating funds?
A:  The District relies primarily on two sources of revenue; local revenue from taxes and state revenues, however, since 2009-10, the Lawson District has received approximately $700,000 less annually in state revenue, declining from a high of $4.907 million down to $4.264 million in 2019-20.  Prop C Monies, a statewide sales tax revenue, have decreased 1% since 2007-08. ($1.126 million down to $1.114 million in 2019-20).  The MO Lottery monies known as the “Classroom Trust Fund” have decreased from $513,000 in 2010-11 to $362,000 in 2019-20.  State Transportation funding has reduced by over $150,000 in the past decade from $275,000 in 2009-10 down to $119,000 in 2018-19.  All of these declines in state funding has placed a greater burden on local monies to continue operating the District. It’s a given that goods and services cost more year over year.  On top of that there are unfunded state mandates such as the law requiring virtual learning that was passed just of a few years ago.

Q: How is a property tax levy calculated?

A: The tax levy is determined utilizing a state calculation that considers the previous year’s tax rate, the current Consumer Price Index, the assessed value (AV) of the properties within the district’s boundaries, and new growth of properties within the district’s boundaries.  It is calculated before the school year begins and approved by the Board of Education. 

Q. In what ways can a school district increase its revenues?
A:  Under Missouri law, there are only three ways in which a school district can increase local revenues:

  • Collect additional tax revenues from new construction (see next question)
  • Collect additional tax revenues from increases in assessed valuation within the confines of the Hancock Amendment (see the question below)
  • Ask voters to approve an operating levy increase

Q. How does the District benefit from new construction?
A:  The District receives additional tax revenues from new construction (e.g., new homes). New construction in Lawson, though recently appearing to be significant, has only added an average of approximately $33,847 of additional annual revenue over the past 10 years.  Approximately, one-fourth of this amount is dedicated to debt service, however.

Q. How does Missouri law, such as the Hancock Amendment, limit growth in the District’s local tax revenue?
A. As assessed value of property within the District goes up, Missouri law (the Hancock Amendment) requires the District to roll back (reduce) its tax rate if revenues from existing property increase at a rate greater than the three possibilities below.  Local tax revenue growth can only increase at the LESSER of the following three scenarios:

  • Five percent
  • Consumer Price Index (less than 1.85% annually on average from February 2017-2021)
  • The change in assessed valuation, which, if negative, causes the District’s revenue to be flat due to the fact that the Hancock Amendment protects school districts from collecting less tax revenue than they did the year before, regardless of a decrease in assessed valuations.

In some years during the early years of the Great Recession, revenue growth was calculated at zero according to the three scenarios.  Consequently, the District does not benefit significantly from increases in assessed value, and operating tax revenue growth has remained relatively small.

Q. If the District is not receiving more money from increases in assessed value, why have my property taxes risen in the past several years?
A.  Actually, the operating tax rate for the District has decreased by almost 45 cents since 2013-14, from $3.4024 down to the current rate of $2.9547.  This is due to the increase in overall increase in assessed valuation combined with the restrictions of the Hancock Amendment (see the question above).  Since assessed valuation has outpaced the CPI, the District is required by state law to lower the operating levy.  If other taxing authority entities such as a library, fire district or road district have raised taxes then an individual’s property taxes may rise for those entities in the same time frame and the overall property taxes may have increased for an individual.  Also, if an individual has purchased new or newer personal property or additional real estate, property tax amounts would also rise as a result of a higher assessed valuation.  The assessed valuation amount for a property owner is listed and itemized on their tax bills.    

Q. So if the Lawson R-XIV School District’s operating levy has declined since 2013-14, will it decline in the future? 

A.  If as outlined above, the assessed valuation growth outpaces the allowable tax revenue growth by law (the Hancock Amendment), then the District will be required to lower the tax rate.  At one time, the District had a levy of $4.40 (1984).  As assessed valuation has grown significantly over the past 36 years, the levy has been reduced according to law.

Q. Are there other Districts in the area that have successfully passed levy increases for the same reasons of need such as increased operating expenses or salary increases for staff?

A.  Yes, just in the past two years there have been other area districts that have passed levy increases. In June 2020, Braymer voters approved a $1.00 increase to the operating levy.  In April 2021 four area school districts had questions on the ballot seeking more funds for operating expenses.  Wellington-Napoleon voters approved a $1.25 increase for operating expenses and salary improvements.  Grandview voters approved a $0.60 increase for “attracting and retaining quality certified and support staff, and meeting additional operating expenses”. 

Q. How does the Lawson R-XIV School District’s operating levy compare with other districts?
A:  The Lawson R-XIV School District has the lowest operating levy tax rates of any school district in the region outlined west of Highway 65 and North of I-70. The chart below shows the operating levies of selected Northland school districts, the KCI conference, and area schools, Richmond, Polo, and Cameron.

School District

Operating Levy

 

East Buchanan Co. C-1

$5.2934

Liberty 53

$4.8956

Park Hill

$4.7608

Mid-Buchanan Co. R-V

$4.6774

Richmond R-XVI

$4.5436

Lathrop R-II

$4.3900

Excelsior Springs 40

$4.1309

West Platte Co. R-II

$4.1000

Smithville R-II

$4.0988

Kearney R-I

$4.0245

Clinton Co. R-III

$3.9134

North Platte Co. R-I

$3.8900

Platte Co. R-III

$3.8810

Cameron R-I

$3.6207

Polo R-VII

$3.5023

Hamilton R-II

$3.4814

Lawson R-XIV

$2.9547

 

Q. How does the Lawson R-XIV School District’s OVERALL levy compare with other districts?
You add the operating levy and the debt service levy together to get the overall levy, The Lawson R-XIV School District still has one of the lowest overall levy tax rates of any school district in the area. The chart below shows the overall levies of selected Northland school districts, the KCI conference, and area schools, Richmond, Polo, and Cameron.

School Districts

Operating Levy

Debt Service Levy

Total Levy

Liberty 53

$4.8956

$1.5594

$6.4550

Mid-Buchanan Co. R-V

$4.6774

$0.9000

$5.5774

Park Hill

$4.7608

$0.6347

$5.3955

Lathrop R-II

$4.3900

$0.9725

$5.3625

East Buchanan Co. C-1

$5.2934

$0.0000

$5.2934

Excelsior Springs 40

$4.1309

$1.1453

$5.2762

Kearney R-I

$4.0245

$1.1902

$5.2147

Smithville R-II

$4.0988

$1.0012

$5.1000

Platte Co. R-III

$3.8810

$1.1383

$5.0193

Clinton Co. R-III

$3.9134

$1.0000

$4.9134

Hamilton R-II

$3.4814

$1.3800

$4.8614

North Platte Co. R-I

$3.8900

$0.8500

$4.7400

Polo R-VII

$3.5023

$1.1101

$4.6124

Richmond R-XVI

$4.5436

$0.0000

$4.5436

Cameron R-I

$3.6207

$0.7533

$4.3740

West Platte Co. R-II

$4.1000

$0.0000

$4.1000

Lawson R-XIV

$2.9547

$0.9500

$3.9047