Fort Osage asking for bonds, levy transfer

By Mike Genet

The Fort Osage School District will ask voters in April to approve $20 million in bonds and a levy transfer, neither of which would increase taxes for district residents.

In addition to school board elections, the district will have questions on the April 6 ballot. One question is for approval of $20 million in bonds to build a new district office, transportation and maintenance building and to renovate kitchen facilities at all eight district school buildings. It needs a four-sevenths majority, or 57.1 percent, to pass. The second question, which requires a simple majority, is to transfer $0.32 from the district’s debt levy to its operating levy over the course of three years, which would give the district funds for a new high school main gym and to remodel and expand the high school band room.

Fort Osage High School’s band room was crowded in 2015, and the band has doubled in size over the past decade, district officials say. An expanded band room is one of several proposed projects, along with a second gym and a new building for district offices and transportation and maintenance.

No matter what voters choose, the district’s overall tax levy would remain the same at $6.37 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The district last asked voters for bonds (and an operating levy increase) in 2017, and received strong support from voters. That bond issue included a new early childhood education center and a significant stadium upgrade. Superintendent Jason Snodgrass said it’s normal for school districts to ask for bonds every few years to fund capital improvements without raising taxes.

“We sent a survey to district parents, families and patrons last year,” Snodgrass said about putting both questions on the ballot, “and we received positive feedback."

The district is asking for new buildings for district offices, transportation and maintenance, all on the campus at U.S. 24 and Twyman Road, just east of Fire Prairie Elementary and the Lewis & Clark Academy.

The current buildings would be demolished after the new one is finished.

“All three of the buildings are undersized and would need some major improvements,” Snodgrass said.

With the transportation building, there will be electric hookups for all buses at night, to keep batteries from dying during the winter.

“During the inclement weather, some bus drivers were getting up as early as 3 to start buses,” Snodgrass said.

The district also plans to renovate kitchen facilities around the district and make parking lot and drive improvements around the district campus and Blue Hills Elementary.

With money from the levy transfer, the district plans to address overcrowding in two other areas, the gym and the band room. The new gym would be adjacent to the current one, and lost parking would be made up in the area from demolished buildings.

When the current gym was built in 1967, the high school had 660 students, Snodgrass said. Now, it has about 1,500, and the ocker rooms and trainer rooms are also too cramped.

“We looked at doing a remodel to the existing gym, but for slightly more we can get a new gym,” he said.

The marching band has doubled over the past 10 years, Snodgrass said, and has far outgrown its current room. By building into adjacent storage space and moving storage elsewhere, the district can alleviate that problem.

Available funds from the levy transfer would also go toward staff retention and other basic operating costs, the superintendent said.