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Storm shelters for Ozark schools that don’t have them are on April 5 ballot

Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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OZARK, Mo. (KY3) - The April 5 election is just around the corner and for voters in Ozark the ballot includes two questions from the Ozark School District pertaining to how to spend tax money.

In both cases, the requests will not involve any increase in property taxes which are currently $4.14-per-$100 assessed.

“We have not increased our tax rate since 2003,” said Ozark School Superintendent Dr. Chris Bauman. “So when voters walk in on that Tuesday, regardless of how they vote, they will pay the same amount of taxes on Wednesday.”

Question 1 on the ballot is whether or not to authorize a $19 million bond to construct three storm shelters at the Tiger Paw Early Childhood Center, the middle school and the high school. If those additions are made every school in the district would have a storm shelter.

“Obviously when the storms came through Joplin (in 2011) it really changed the landscape,” Bauman explained. “So when we started our strategic planning process this year our community came back and said it was really important for us to add those shelters in the facilities that do not have them.”

That includes the Tiger Paw Early Childhood Development building that has had some renovations but was originally built as part of the WPA federal projects in the 1940′s. A new storm shelter there would be much safer for the 300 students who currently still duck-and-cover in the halls during bad weather.

“We are about 50 percent special education and 50 percent regular preschool,” said Tiger Paw Director Elizabeth Dawson of the school’s enrollment. “With children that are so young even practicing a tornado drill can sometimes be scary because you’re in hallways or bathrooms crouching down. If we had a dedicated storm shelter where we could just transition everyone into a large room we could be singing songs, playing games or even having a dance party and that would really reduce a lot of that anxiety.”

The new shelter at the Tiger Paw Early Childhood Center would also double as a cafeteria and kitchen. Currently students eat breakfast and lunch in the gym where P.E. classes are also going on, meaning tables have to be set up and taken down several times throughout the day.

“It is a challenge because we have our meals carted over to us from East elementary so the space is always in transition,” Dawson said. “It takes a lot of time and resources to make that happen.”

The other proposed storm shelters will also have multiple uses. The middle school shelter will serve as extra classroom space and the high school shelter will be used for physical education and practice space.

“The storm shelters are designed to withstand 250 mph winds but we hope we never have to use them,” Bauman said. “So it was very important for us to work with our community and identify additional services that we could provide the kids within these facilities.”

Question 2 on the ballot is basically an accounting issue as last year the district was required by state law to make a 17-cent levy transfer from the general operating fund to the debt service fund due to an increase in real estate assessment values. Now the district wants voters to approve transferring 10 cents of that back to the general fund because of rising operating costs. The move would provide about half-a-million dollars annually that could be used to fight the inflated prices that we’re all experiencing.

“That (operating) fund is what supports the entire district,” Bauman explained. “It allows us to give raises to staff, pay the utilities and do all the things that keeps the school district running. And it does make a big difference in the dollars that we have available as we’ve seen seven-to-eight percent inflation rates.”

It would seem that with the district not asking for any more money from the public, the measures have a good chance of passing. But Bauman knows there will be some opposition.

“Our community is very conservative and I absolutely respect that,” Bauman said. “And people want to make sure they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck and make sure that we’re managing our debt. Some have asked if we leave the 17 cents in debt service would that pay off our debt faster but that’s not necessarily how it works. We already have a payment set up so it just creates a surplus that we can’t utilize. So this is about us utilizing our dollars to the maximum benefit to get the largest return on our investment.”

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