James encourages vote on Linn R-2 bond issue

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 3/27/24

LINN   — Linn R-2 Superintendent Bob James is confident in the district’s plan to secure bond funding through Prop W in next Tuesday’s election.

“The best part about …

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James encourages vote on Linn R-2 bond issue


LINN  — Linn R-2 Superintendent Bob James is confident in the district’s plan to secure bond funding through Prop W in next Tuesday’s election.

“The best part about this is that we’re not looking to increase our tax rate for this, and I encourage everyone to get out and vote,” said James. “We’ve done our best to educate the public about the long-term needs of the school district, and we have great support among our patrons.”

A “town-hall” was held last month, and again on Tuesday of this week to answer questions. “We’ve had great attendance at these gatherings,” said James. “I think the public is very interested in what we’re trying to do.”

James added there is an optimal debt service tax rate for schools, and former leaders in the community and school boards considered the future when adopting a debt-service levy of $1.05, explaining the rate is designed to bond every five to seven years.

“That $1.05 is the formula answer to how you can continue to progress, take care of your facilities, and build and maintain what you need,” said James. “It’s the gold standard, and we already have that here. It’s worked. I don’t want to change that at all. I think anyone would argue they would like to have more money and spend less, so I’m not interested in moving forward with anything that would increase our tax rate to take on the projects.”

Prop W has a dual meaning. “We want people to think of W for Wildcats, but it’s  also W for Win because we believe this will be a win for our kids,” said James. “In addition to yard signs and other outdoor materials, we’re going to create trifold flyers we can hand out that explain everything we want to do.”

Here’s the official ballot language:

“Shall Osage County R-II School District issue its general obligation bonds in the amount of $9,500,000 for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, improving, repairing, renovating, furnishing and equipping school facilities and sites, in order of priority:

• Safety and security improvements at the Elementary School

• Construction of a building that allows for the removal of Middle School students from the Fieldhouse basement

• Installation of a cooling system at the Fieldhouse

• Site improvements of District driveways and parking lots

• Upgrades to playground equipment at the Upper Elementary School

• Improvements to athletic facilities

• Acquisition of property currently leased by the District?

If this question is approved, the District’s debt service property tax levy is estimated to remain unchanged at $1.05 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation of real and personal property.”

James noted that driveway and parking lot improvements are important as the district continues to improve its facilities. “We have run into issues with parking during football and track,” he said, adding the steering committee and board members are considering options to create additional parking areas.

He is also considering long-range changes to the ball diamond and building a concession stand between the field and track for easier access by fans.

In the long run, James believes attendance will continue to grow at sporting events. “We’re going to put more butts in seats in the next 20 years,” he added. “That means we’re going to have to add more seats so our parents, students, and fans can cheer on our softball and baseball teams.”

As previously reported, the board agreed with James’ recommendation to use a lease purchase plan to improve the track facility. “The reason I would even look at a lease purchase is because we are limited by statute to borrow 15 percent of our assessed valuation, which is at $84 million and some change,” James noted at the November meeting. “That puts us at about $12.6 million (we can borrow), but we owe money on the elementary building, and that limits what we can bond.”

The loan is financed through the Missouri Health and Educational Facilities Authority (MOHEFA).

Board members agreed to use the firm of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company of Kansas City as the bond underwriter and the firm of Gilmore & Bell, P.C., of Kansas City, as bond counsel.

Stifel Finance Managing Director Joe Kinder told the board in November the school would only pay his firm if bonds are issued. In that case, the Jefferson City financial company would auction bonds to 400,000 investor accounts to gain the highest possible price in $5,000 increments.

Regarding debt service, about 90% of revenues come from locally-assessed valuation. “We try to accurately project your assessed valuation because we don’t want to get you in big trouble and have you pay off a bunch of debt you can’t get back,” Kinder said. “We also don’t want to leave money on the table by being overly conservative.”

Kinder said he prepared bonding scenarios for the next two years, with $9 million in 2024 and $7 million in 2029. “That is going to allow you to pay back the bonds and have projected growth in the debt service fund of 2.9 percent,” he added.

After the initial five years, the district would be set up to run another bond issue every 5-7 years for $6-$8 million to recoup bonding capacity over time. In the next 10-12 years, Linn could have a capacity of $20-$25 million for improvements.

As it stands, the district has long worked on a base operating tax levy of $2.75 per $100 assessed valuation.

James acknowledges the district has faced scrutiny over the years from the public because of indiscretions but believes the community supports Linn R-2. “Maybe I’m being naive, but I think they’ll support us,” he said. “What we have to do with this bond is show them what we can do when they give us an opportunity. We can never play with trust. We want to do extraordinary things. The best way to destroy any opportunity to do that is for the people you’re trying to do it with not to trust you. I am more than a bit anxious about making the most of every copper penny that we could possibly get from this bond election. I want every visitor to say, ‘Wow, man, look at what they’ve done. I can’t wait to see what we’re doing next.’ This bond is part of a 20-year long-range plan for facilities. Board members and I understand that if we don’t do well with this one, you forget about phase two and phase three.”

Prop W will be Linn R-2’s only issue on the April 2 ballot. “We truly believe this is in the best interest of our long-term goals,” said James. “It’s a ‘Win’ for everyone because no one’s taxes will increase.”

In the meantime, anyone with questions who couldn’t make it to one of the Q&A sessions is encouraged to contact James or a school board member. “We welcome the opportunity to ensure people understand the proposition,” James said, noting if anyone contacts the school about the issue, he will gladly take the call. “Please don’t go to the vote wondering how this will impact you or our long-range plan. I would really like voters to be very informed and exercise their vote. If I get those two things, for or against, I know we’ll be going in the right direction, because the right direction is what the community wants out of the school, not what I want.”