BOLIVAR, Mo. — Voters rejected a measure Tuesday night to create a formal partnership between Bolivar R-1 Schools and Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC). The partnership would have allowed Bolivar residents to attend OTC at a discounted rate, but it also came with a tax levy increase that many opposed.
“Never in the history of our school have we ever put forward a measure like this where we would go to the public and ask them to pay a real estate tax that would be collected by Bolivar R-1, and then we would simply have it in our hands, turn around and hand it off to another entity,” school board member Brad Wommack said. “In this case, it would be OTC.”
When the board voted to put the measure on the ballot, Wommack voted no.
“I voted no because I had not been given the opportunity to ask my questions,” Wommack said.
One of those questions included how the money from the 20-cent tax levy increase would be used.
“In this particular case, we’re going to be collecting the first year $419,000 that would be passed away from any benefit to Bolivar R-1 kids and teachers and so forth,” Wommack said. “In merely five years, that would be more than $2 million. We have needs in our school. To me, it just sends a bad signal.”
OTC said it applied for a grant that was contingent on the passing of Tuesday’s vote.
“What we were trying to do is ask our voters for that local commitment,” Superintendent Richard Asbill said. “So without that yes vote, [OTC’s] application is really mute at that point because it doesn’t have a local commitment. It is unlikely that the state legislature would look at an application and say, okay, what’s the local commitment? You just failed funding it.”
OTC said for the 2022-2023 school year, 218 students at all OTC campuses were from Bolivar.
“We were disappointed,” Asbill said. “We really thought that we had a very good message outlined. The economic piece, the job growth piece, as well as the career technical training piece.”
Asbill said the town has already lost out because of the lack of affordable education in rural Missouri.
“The students that go to OTC actually live in Springfield,” Asbill said. “Very few of them come back to Bolivar. They start work in in Springfield or the Springfield area and they they decide to live there. Our hope was to create jobs locally, make it more convenient and accessible, and then that would help us in our economic and job growth challenge.”
Both Asbill and Wommack like the idea of having an OTC campus in Bolivar, but differ when it comes to Tuesday’s vote.
“I like OTC,” Wommack said. “I think it would be a wonderful thing for Bolivar to have it and the opportunities that it would afford to Bolivar and the reduced tuition in the saving of driving time and so forth. But on the other hand, let them get their money in another way.”
“We first have to get students an opportunity to access that in an affordable pathway,” Asbill said. “The biggest challenge with that is we can do those things, but it’s still going to cost individuals more because they’re paying more in tuition.”
The earliest the measure could be back on the ballot would be November 2024 due to the way the law is written.