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Since more residents in Polk County have been enrolling at Ozarks Technical Community College, the largest school district there will ask voters to enter a former partnership with OTC.
If approved, Bolivar residents will be assessed a property tax levy and be part of the OTC district, where they receive deeply discounted tuition rates.
The Bolivar school board agreed to place the BoMOTC question on the Nov. 7 ballot. Voters will decide the fate of a proposed tax levy — 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation — effective Jan. 1, 2024.
Bolivar Superintendent Richard Asbill said if the ballot measure is approved, Bolivar residents will have more access to "enhanced career and technical education."
“While our residents get the initial benefit of tuition cost reductions, we are also increasing access to all our Polk County neighbors. Students in this partnership include everyone, 18 and beyond, aunts, uncles, spouses, single parents, grandparents, grandchildren, and individuals looking for a new career opportunity," said Asbill, in a news release.
"Our goal is to develop pathway opportunities for our students and neighbors to live, work, and play right here in Bolivar and Polk County.”
According to OTC, 1,503 students from Polk County — 787 from Bolivar — have enrolled at the college in the past five years. Last year, there were 218.
OTC said 20% of the 787 Bolivar students participated in the state's A+ Scholarship program and 28% enrolled in trade programs. Of the students enrolled in trade programs, 100% stayed in Missouri and 46% continued to live in Polk County after graduation.
“Our Board of Education is excited to see our partnership with OTC expand and bring more opportunities for not only our students but all Bolivar school district residents,” said board president Paula Hubbert, in a release. “This partnership is about the future and access to career and technical education that benefits everyone in the Bolivarschool district.”
Gov. Mike Parson, who is from Polk County, showed his support for the BoMOTC partnership.
“Since day one, workforce development has been a top priority of our administration, and while we have come a long way, this partnership between Bolivar school district and OTC will take us even further,” Parson said in a written statement.
“Not only will this partnership bring career and technical education training opportunities for students in Bolivar but to the surrounding rural communities as well, many of which have been historically overlooked. The First Lady and Ijoin our local leaders in encouraging you to support this project that will strengthen our community and foster brighter futures for our families.”
OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon said Bolivar school leaders approached the college about joining the OTC taxing district. It currently includes Ash Grove, Branson, Clever, Everton, Fordland, Hollister, Logan-Rogersville, Marshfield, Nixa, Ozark, Pleasant Hope, Republic, Springfield, Strafford, Walnut Grove and Willard.
"It is a substantial savings for their students," Higdon said.
For example, tuition for a general education course is $188 a credit hour but in-district students pay $128, a savings of $60. They save $180 on a three-credit course.
Higdon said OTC has a long relationship with Bolivar and school and community leaders are interested in having an OTC center in Polk County where residents can take classes if they don't want to drive to Springfield.
"We made it really clear from the beginning and they understood that due to the size of the taxing district there, it would not be enough to financially support building a facility there," Higdon said.
If approved, the operating tax levy is expected to generate $400,000 a year. However, OTC will receive less in tuition once Bolivar residents start paying the in-district rate.
"It is not a big financial benefit to OTC but we would never turn a district down," he said. "As Highway 13 has been improved, Bolivar is so much closer than it used to be. It is just a natural progression."
Higdon said if the ballot measure is approved, he expects Bolivar leaders to work with area lawmakers to seek the state funding to build a center.
"For their size, they have a very large health system there that we provide a lot of training for but we could provide more," he said. "That would be good."
Southwest Baptist University, which is located in Bolivar, has also reached out to OTC to discuss new ways to partner if the annexation happens, Higdon said. "It was very positive."
If the levy is approved, the property tax bill for the owner of a $100,000 house will go up by $38 a year.
In the release, state Sen. Sandy Crawford and state Rep. Mike Stephens said the proposed partnership with OTC will benefit Polk County, which they both represent.
Stephens said it will increase rural residents' access to technical education skills as well as options for retraining and career advancement. "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our community to be an economic lifeline for countless of our citizens for years to come."
The ballot language
Shall the Bolivar R-1 School District of Polk County, Missouri, become a part of and be annexed to Ozarks Technical Community College (also known as the Community College District of Central Southwest Missouri) effective January 1, 2024? If this question is approved, the overall tax levy in the district will increase by the community college tax levy of up to $0.20 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation and all residents of the school district will become eligible for reduced tuition at the in-district rate.
Claudette Riley covers education for the News-Leader. Email tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Bolivar voters to decide fate of tax levy to join OTC taxing district