Monday, January 24, 2011

"Enough is Enough' Group Opposes R-7 Tax Increase

‘Enough is enough’

Group opposes R-7 tax increase

Emily Jarrett, Journal Staff

With a little more than a month left until the Feb. 8 election, the fight over a proposed 89-cent tax increase has started. And the first to step into the ring is the group, Citizens for Responsible Education.

“We’re not anti-school district, I want to make that clear,” said spokesperson and former Lee’s Summit City Council member, Ron Williams. “A lot of times when you oppose something within the district, people say you’re anti-education or anti-children. This is just about us saying ‘enough is enough.’”

In November, the Lee’s Summit R-7 School Board voted 6-1 to approve a measure to put an 89-cent tax increase on the ballot in February. If the levy passes with a simple majority, property owners will see their levy rise from $6.05 to $6.94 per $100 assessed valuation.

“Simply put, it’s time for people to say, ‘can I afford this?’” Williams said.

While Citizens for Responsible Education is a relatively new group – their first official meeting was Dec. 21 – its mission is clear.

“Our goal is two-fold, to inform voters about the issue and give another side to the facts the district is putting out, and also to defeat the levy based on those facts not personal opinions,” Williams said. “I spoke to one woman who didn’t even know there was a tax increase on the February ballot. Many people aren’t aware of this at all and I think the district knows that.”

“(The district) is spending an awful lot of money to do an election during a time period when no one votes,” added Brad Cox, a Lee’s Summit business and property owner and group treasurer.

Both Williams and Cox said the district has not done enough to give voters all the facts on the tax-increase issue.

“They had a public forum where the public wasn’t able to talk,” Cox said, referring to last month’s meeting on possible budget cuts the district will make if the levy does not pass. “This is the worst economic climate in 100 years and the district needs to realize they can’t keep going back to the public trough. The rest of the community has had to buckle down and deal with their finances, now it’s the district’s turn.”

According to R-7, the district has cut nearly $19.5 million from its 2010-2011 school year budget and if the levy does not pass, will be forced to cut an additional $6 million, including cuts to teacher positions, creating combination classrooms and additional budget cuts that will affect programs and activities.

“(The Citizens’ Advisory Committee) felt very strongly that voters needed to be able to say, ‘we want to support our schools’ or not,” said Terri Harmon, co-chair of the Building Our Future Committee, a pro-levy group. “By not passing the levy and cutting the budget, we’re harming the education in the community. By just cutting another $6 million, it will negatively impact thousands and thousands of students.”

Williams said both he and the members of Citizens for Responsible Education recognize the budget cuts the district has already made but, “enough is enough.”

“I don’t have an answer for what the district should do,” Williams said. “I don’t know how to run a school district. But I do know how to run a checkbook and now is not the time for more taxes.”

According to Cox, the $19.5 million in cuts are about 10 percent of the district’s budget.

“Show me how many businesses have had to cut 10 percent,” he said. “And now, the district is asking for an operating levy increase of almost 18 percent. We don’t want anyone to lose their job but I think people are forgetting that if the levy passes, those additional taxes are going to trickle down to any business owner who rents property in Lee’s Summit, not to mention the property owners.”

While Williams and Cox are both Lee’s Summit business owners, neither have children who currently attend school in the district.

“I think that’s irrelevant,” Williams said. “No one wants to take programs or activities away from children, that’s not what this group is about.

“I was in a third and fourth grade combination classroom and I don’t think it honestly affected me,” he added with a laugh. “People will rise to the occasion.”

Cox agreed with Williams saying the failure of this particular levy wouldn’t undo years of R-7 education and that he’s “disappointed” when district administration officials talk about “protecting the legacy of R-7” through the levy.

“That’s a threat. Don’t use the education of our children as a threat,” Cox said. “I don’t believe for a minute that, if this levy doesn’t pass, the education in the district will suddenly be sub-standard.

“People all over the country, all over Lee’s Summit, are having to cut back and do more with less. For years we’ve been hearing about all the fantastic teachers in the district – and I really do believe we have them – they’re still going to be fantastic teachers if the levy fails. We can still maintain success in tough times.”

Calls to R-7 superintendent David McGehee were not returned by press time.

To reach Journal reporter Emily Jarrett, call 816-282-7018 or e-mail

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