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What is an Operating Levy?


When you go to the polls, you might see both bond issues and operating levies on your local ballot. Do you know how an operating levy is different from a bond issue? Keep reading, because we’re about to explain.

An operating levy is a relatively flexible source of funding for Missouri schools. Unlike bond issues, which can only be used for capital projects, operating levies can be used to support the school in a variety of ways, including salaries, bill paying, and technology upgrades. And while bond issues can be used exclusively for the purposes stated on the ballot, operating levies can be used to cover expenses that aren’t articulated on the ballot.

Learn More: What is a Bond Issue?

Springfield Public Schools explains the difference between a bond and an operating levy well: “A school district requests a bond issue when it needs to make capital improvements such as building or renovating schools. A tax levy funds operating expenses like salaries, utilities and textbooks. State law is very specific that money from a bond issue may only be used for capital improvements and not to fund a district’s operating budget.” (Source)

Operating levies are covered under The Missouri School Operating Tax Levy Agreement, or Amendment 2. Passed in 1998, the constitutional amendment says that school boards can set a levy of up to $2.75 without a vote. A simple majority vote is required to pass levies that are between $2.78 and $6.00, and for a levy of more than $6.00, a two-thirds majority vote is required. (Source)

Historically, levies have been used to hire teachers, increase existing teacher salaries, make capital updates, and help with general operating expenses for Missouri’s schools.

This 2013 levy in Springfield, Missouri was designed to hire more teachers for the district, so that the number of educators there kept pace with the district’s growing enrollment.

In 2014, in Warrensburg, an operating tax levy was proposed to help “offset the decline in state funding over the last five years, increase staff salaries, add two school resource officers and upgrade technology.” (Source)

And this year, as you prepare to go your local polls, you might see a proposed operating levy increase as well.

Public schools in Independence, Missouri hope to see a 24-cent increase this year. The district could raise $2 million annually through its levy increase, enabling it to hire teachers, offer competitive teacher salaries, and invest in professional development, technology, and building maintenance costs. (Source)

And Dallas County, in Southwest Missouri, is also looking for an operating levy increase. The district would use the new funds for a combination of capital projects, teacher hiring and retention, and “additional needs of the district.” These “additional needs” are the type of needs that operating levies, but not bond issues, can help fund.

Missouri Parent aims to help you better understand funding and legislation that affects your child’s K-12 public education in the State of Missouri. If you found this post helpful, you might like this post explaining school bond issues. Bookmark Missouri Parent News and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to continue to learn more about Missouri public schools.

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