By RICK HAYES
---- — Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories on upcoming referendum and city contested elections which will be published prior to the April 9 Consolidated Election.
MT. VERNON — Voters in the McClellan Grade School District will be asked to help the district with a financial burden caused by the state's shortfall of money for education.A referendum has been placed on the ballot for Tuesday's election which asks voters to approve a 99-cent tax levy increase. If the referendum is approved, it will give the District $238,197 to place in its Education Fund. The District is currently receiving $164,681 from property taxes collected, according to Superintendent Charlie Peterson."What we're doing is trying to find a source of revenue to make up for the state shortfall," Peterson said. "It's just to replace the money the state has cut. From what we're hearing, state aid is going to be reduced even more." Schools currently receive 89 percent in state aid funding; that percentage is likely to decrease to 82 percent, the superintendent reported."There's all kinds of different grants and sources of revenue the state cut out all together to help us operate. The reason we're doing this is just to replace those state funds no longer available," Peterson said.For the 2013 tax levy year, if the referendum passes, the approximate amount of the additional tax extendable against property containing a single family residence and having a fair market value of $100,000 is estimated to be $270.60. For a home valued at $50,000, the amount of taxes property owners would pay would be reduced to $135."We can pay higher taxes and keep the school open or the kids could be split up or sent somewhere else," Peterson said. "The school here is the identity of the community. We've got the grade school and South Hickory Church and that's pretty much it. You take away the school and you take away its identity. We don't have any big businesses in the area, no malls and no service station. It's pretty much all rural and farm fields."With approval of the referendum, the District's tax levy would be increased from $2.26 to $3.25."The new high school construction is in McClellan Township, and if the housing project being proposed goes through, the best case scenario is that we'll have more kids come into the district. Even is half those families have one kid it would increase our enrollment, which in turn, would increase our state aid," Peterson said, adding the District would likely reduce the tax levy if that happens."About 10 years ago voters approved a tax increase to install geothermal. The board promised that when the bonds were paid the tax rate would be lowered. Taxes were lowered and the board kept their promise. We're planning on doing the same thing with this tax referendum," Peterson said. "If we can issue this money and increase taxes for a few years and get more kids in here and get the bonds paid off we can get the tax rate lower like we did in the past."McClellan's current student enrollment is 59 for the kindergarten through eighth grade facility."We have a lot of kids from McClellan that do well at Mt. Vernon High School. I've been told our kids receive scholarships at colleges and many go on to college to further their education. We've also been told the kids coming out of McClellan are well-behaved kids, and there are no behavioral problems at the high school," Peterson said. Peterson said of school districts of comparable size, McClellan has the third lowest tax rate in a 40-mile radius — trailing only Farrington and Grand Prairie school districts.