By Max Goodwin
Voters in the Hickman Mills School District will decide if a tax levy increase and bond package will be approved on August 2. School board members and Superintendent Yaw Obeng say the funding from the bond and levy would address several desperate long term needs for the district.
The property tax levy would pay for an increase in teacher and staff salaries, making Hickman Mills the highest paying district in Jackson County. If it is approved, it would raise the monthly cost of property tax on a home valued at $110,000 by $23.51 a month, and a home assessed at $200,000 by $42 per month. The annual cost for a $110,000 would therefore be approximately $282.15 more per year.
The separate bond question asks voters to approve $20 million in funding for facility improvements and would not increase taxes. In Missouri, it is required for a bond issue to be approved by voters even when it does not raise the tax rate.
“It’s an investment in our students, in our district, and our community,” Obeng said at a recent community meeting.
According to Obeng approval of the tax levy would allow the Hickman Mills School District to recruit and retain teachers and staff in what has become a challenging environment in recent years to staff schools.
The Board of Education voted to approve a $1.35 per $100 tax levy. The board had three options available, 1.25, 1.30, and 1.35 cent taxes, and chose the highest of the three.
“I think our staff deserve to be at the top,” Obeng said. “Our staff are of course excited about this and support it. Already it’s helping us in our recruitment of teachers.”
The $20 million bond package would be used to solve the problem of closed schools that are now empty buildings blighting the area and still owned by the district. The first priority for the bond funding would address three vacant buildings owned by the Hickman Mills School District.
Symington Elementary would become a second middle school in a district that has more than 1,200 middle school aged kids.
The former Smith-Hale Middle School recently had a severe fire as it sat unused and is planned to be demolished. That fire in the empty Smith-Hale Middle School cost the district thousands of dollars in fines alone. The vacant property is currently for sale by the district, but the building itself is beyond repair according to district officials.
Obeng said the overcrowding at the district’s only middle school has caused difficulty for teachers and students during class instruction. The need for a new middle school is so critical that the district is already planning to open what it calls a sixth grade academy at Burke Academy at 1115 Bennington Ave.
The former Johnson Elementary school building would be used for community purposes, one potential use could be a community center.
“Symington, Johnson and Smith Hale have been left vacant and in disrepair for far too long,” said Beth Boerger, a longtime resident of the Hickman Mills area who was recently elected to the Hickman Mills Board of Education. “Putting the grounds to good use can only be an improvement!”
Another district priority for the bond would be to update school security. Improved intercom systems, door-locking mechanism controlled from a front office, and more secure fencing would be added.
After the vacant buildings and security concerns are improved the third priority for bond funding would be to improve school facilities, such as flooring that often comes loose and has asbestos according to Obeng.
NOTE: This story has been updated to correct an error in the printed edition which stated the