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Voters Approve Constitutional Amendments to Aid Schools

April 07, 1998
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved two constitutional amendments Tuesday that supporters say will improve the quality of public schools.

Boone County voters followed the state trend by overwhelmingly approving both amendments.

Amendment 3 takes some taxing authority away from the voters of Kansas City, while Amendment 4 allows school districts to increase their bonding capacity from 10 to 15 percent of the taxable tangible property in the district.

With 98% of precincts reporting, Amendment 4 passed with 68% of the vote. Rep. Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, sponsored the amendment through the General Assembly last year. He said he was elated at the election results.

"This amendment is extremely important to fast-growing districts," Kreider said.

Kreider sponsored the amendment because four of the six school systems in his district had reached the bonding capacity, he said, and this amendment will allow any school district to seek voter approval for more bonds.

He described the amendment as a victory for local control of schools, noting most states impose no bonding capacity on school districts.

"I don't know if we went far enough, but this is a great victory for the children of the state," he said.

The same amendment was rejected by 55 percent of voters in August 1996. Kreider said he thinks improved voter education led to the passage of Amendment 4.

"People got out and told people what this is all about," he said.

With the approval of Amendment 3, the Kansas City school board will be able to adopt a tax rate of up to $4.95 per $100 of assessed valuation without voter approval. With 98% of precincts reporting, Amendment 3 passed with 70% of the vote.

Amendment 3 is the result of the settlement of the federal school desegregation case in Kansas City. During that case, a federal judge mandated a tax rate of $4.96. The previous rate had been $2.75. The state's desegregation payments are scheduled to end next year under the settlement.

Supporters of the amendment said the Kansas City school district would have collapsed if the tax levy suddenly dropped 45 percent.

"We are very pleased with the outcome of the election," said Gov. Mel Carnahan, who supported both of the amendments. "This is an important step as we work to ensure students in the Kansas City school district have the opportunity for a quality education once state desegregation payments end."

Chris Sifford, Carnahan's spokesman, said the amendment's approval gives a nudge to a comprehensive desegregation bill that passed the Senate Tuesday.

Sen. Phil Curls, D-Kansas City, was also pleased.

"We will not realize any basic change," Curls said. "We will just continue to pay at the same rate, or possibly at a lower rate based upon the decision by the school board, but I would hope that they would leave it at the $4.95."

Opponents of the amendment, including a Kansas City citizens group, said the amendment imposes taxation without representation.

Curls said he understood those concerns, but he said the state has to deal with the practical reality of the Kansas City school system. Voters have rejected tax increases time after time and schools have reached a deplorable condition, he said.

"Even though we, as the citizens of Kansas City, may have sacrificed us voting exclusively for ourselves, I think for the benefit of the children in the district, that's okay," Curls said.