L-B seeks combined tax for new school

The Liberty-Benton school board is asking district voters in November to support a combined property tax and income tax to pay for construction of a new kindergarten through eighth-grade building.
With four of the five board members voting at a 7 a.m. meeting Thursday, the board unanimously approved a combined tax to raise $19.5 million, according to information from Superintendent Jim Kanable. With state assistance, the total project would cost about $32 million.
The property tax is estimated to be about 5 mills, and the income tax is estimated to be a quarter-percent. Information was not available Thursday about the length of the tax proposals.
“Voters are pretty galvanized on the idea that we need a new K through 8 building,” board President Scott Rhodes said. “We want to locate both schools on one campus.”
If the tax proposal passes, it will be the first time Liberty-Benton has funded a project through a combination of a property tax and income tax, Rhodes said.
The board heard from about 10 percent of district voters since May, and decided to go with a combined tax proposal after some residents said a property tax “wasn’t a fair way to handle it,” Rhodes said.
Last November, 53 percent of district voters rejected a 6.5-mill tax package that would have funded the construction. The 35-year bond issue would have generated about $19.7 million and would have covered the district’s share of the new building’s $31.9 million price tag.
In recent weeks, some residents in the school district have submitted letters to The Courier saying they would not support a levy because of the amount of money the district has spent, about $70,000 in legal bills, trying to fire teacher Mark Badertsher.
Badertsher was fired following an incident where a student was put in a chokehold and briefly lost consciousness while Badertsher was in another room. Both a state referee and a Hancock County judge have said Badertsher should be reinstated, but the school board is appealing.
Rhodes said the issue worries him, but he hopes when deciding on the school construction that voters will only “think of the kids.”
“It’s an unfortunate situation but I don’t think one should be connected to the other,” Rhodes said.
Superintendent Kanable is on vacation this week and was unavailable to comment on the tax proposal.
The board had passed a resolution on Monday that started the process to submit the proposed tax package to the Hancock County Board of Elections by the Aug. 6 deadline for the fall ballot.
The district is seeking to replace its K-8 building, parts of which were built in 1921.
“Not a week goes by without a toilet overflowing or a sink exploding in one of those bathrooms,” said Lisa Ackerman, a kindergarten teacher who spoke at a school district forum in May.
At the forum, teachers also complained about the school’s lack of accessibility for handicapped and disabled persons.
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