Riverside Schoolofficials air views on tax increase

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Town Crier News Staff

Two Riverside school public meetings were held this week in order to give school officials an opportunity to present their reasons for requesting for a 9 mil tax increase, and to give patrons an opportunity to make inquiries and air their views on the monumental undertaking.

Meetings were held at the high school in Lake City on Tuesday evening and at Caraway on Thursday evening.

Riverside Superintendent Tommy Knight led the discussions on each campus. School board members in attendance included Mike Hook, Kenny Weathers, Lynn B. Nall, Mike Brickell and Mike Brown .

"Our school board submitted plans for a new 7-12 high school facility on the Lake City campus, and an elementary school on the Caraway campus," Knight said. "The state passed both proposals but only funded the 7-12 high school, this year. We are to receive a $8.2 million grant, which is the largest partnership granted in the state. We get 65 percent from the grant and the district has to come up with the other 35 percent.

"In order to build the school, the board voted to ask the voters to pass a 9 mill increase," Knight said. "The building will be 84,000 square feet, to be built adjacent to the West Elementary building.

"This will be a very modest increase to the people in the district."

Flyers were handed out explaining the rate of increase per person. If a person's property is valued at $40,000 the tax increase with 9 mills added will be $72. This amount minus the increase in the homestead exemption of $50 will result in a net amount of tax increase per year at $22. Agricultural land valued at $550 an acre will only be increased by 99 cents per acre. The tax increases continue in coalation to the cost of homes or land.

"We will realize a $200,000 savings a year with new buildings," Knight said. "This is due to expenses, transportation, travel, utilities and building and maintenance.

"For those who have expressed their fear of losing their school in Caraway, let me say it would be financially irresponsible for us to abandon a new elementary in Caraway when it is built. Plans are for that school to be there a long time."

"If we don't do this the $8.2 million will go back to the state," Knight said. We will have to repair these old buildings again. The state can take back their offer and might even take over our school. Then we would have no say-so about anything.

"We are asking for your support. Your vote yes on Sept. 18 will be a vote for the future of our kids."

Questions from the Lake City audiences included security issues, site, traffic flow, and changes in education quality.

One Riverside teacher saw the need for a new science lab, as the current one uses two outlets to plug in 12 items. He expressed the need for a new facility.

"One mill increase will add $39,000 to our school," Knight said. "When the millage is adopted it will take about two years from our breaking ground. The revenue from the increase works a year behind, after the millage is passed.

"The enrollment at Riverside is at 250 today," Knight said. "The high school is up 10 and will continue to grow. Seventy students are enrolled in the sixth grade. We are up 46 students district wide, which puts us right at 800.

"Our last millage increase was in July of 2003."

One patron asked why there was a sign in Caraway saying "Vote No on the increase--save our school."

"I don't know," Knight said. "We are trying to save the school. We have needed new buildings for a long time. This is a chance to get them. We must work together to get this done."

At Caraway patrons asked why the comments were made by Knight, saying, "I will fight to keep an elementary in Caraway," when that was the agreement when the two schools consolidated.

Patrons asked why the decision of the board was to build a 7-12 high school on the Lake City campus instead of a 10-12 high school at Lake City and 7-9 on the Caraway campus.

"The board and I are trying to do what is best for both cities, and most of all the students," Knight said. "The state will fund the plan that was submitted. If we built a junior high, senior high and East elementary that would be three projects not two."

Another question was, "Why was there not a proposal made for the two high schools in the beginning?"

"That was before my time," Knight said.

One patron remarked that they were told if they did not support this millage increase in two years Caraway would lose its school.

"I don't know anything about that," Knight said. "This is all based on enrollment. This decision was deemed best for the kids. Our kids deserve the best education they can get."

One patron commented there was nothing in writing to insure Caraway they would be getting a new elementary school. Fears for the town of Caraway were expressed. Support was expressed for new buildings, but site was in contention.

"With the high school being in one location student classes would be more flexible, there would be more advanced placement offered, and lab science facilities would be in one big lab," Knight said.

One patron expressed disapproval in the school board in not coming up with a better option for new construction, more equally divided between both towns. Another patron stated voters had elected the board and will have the opportunity to change them.

"I have presented the financial facts of this issue, and I do not have the answers on the emotional issues," Knight said.

Both meetings were conducted peacefully and with patrons and school officials both expressing their personal opinions without incident. The voters will have the last word on Sept. 18 as they go to the polls to vote their convictions concerning the millage increase and future construction plans.

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