Metro East, St. Louis County school districts seek funding help in Tuesday’s election | St. Louis Public Radio

Metro East, St. Louis County school districts seek funding help in Tuesday’s election

Apr 2, 2017

School districts across the St. Louis area are asking voters Tuesday to consider various funding measures.

Two Metro East counties are hoping to join more than 40 others in Illinois that have started using sales tax increases to bolster school funding in the face of less state support due to a nearly two-year budget crisis.

And in St. Louis County, there are a half-dozen funding measures. Kirkwood would raise property taxes, while the rest are bonding measures, all of which need to pass with about 57 percent of the vote. The largest bonding measure, in the Rockwood district, seeks to spend $95.5 million on a new elementary school in Eureka and expand other buildings.

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Here’s a closer look at what’s on the ballots:

Metro East

Madison and St. Clair counties are seeking a 1 percent sales tax increase, which has become popular as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner fights with Democrats over the budget. In exchange for paying more on gas and dining out, some school leaders say residents will see lower property taxes.

It’s “a fair-share tax because it’s the same increase for anyone,” according to Alton Superintendent Mark Cappel, who explains that the tax proposal isn’t based on the worth of someone’s home. Plus, school leaders estimate more than 30 percent of Madison County’s sales tax revenue comes from people who live outside its boundaries.

Madison County’s measure is estimated to bring in $23 million a year. The money will be split up among the districts based on their size, and has specific uses.

“It cannot be used for salaries, ever,” said Allen Scharf, a retired educator working with a community group supporting St. Clair County’s tax increase proposition. “It can only be used for what we would call the facilities issues.”

Using sales tax money on facilities upgrades instead of using bonds, which are paid back with property tax money, would lead to lower levies on residents’ homes, he said.

Many opponents, though, say there’s no way to guarantee that promise, “but a school board member cannot make a promise ‘forever.’ They can change their mind at any time,” Madison County Citizens for Sustainable Education said in an opposition flyer.

In Madison County, Edwardsville and Collinsville school boards don’t support the measure, but will still see their share of money.

Kirkwood tries again

Voters in Kirkwood handily defeated the school district’s attempt to raise property taxes by 78 cents per $100 of a home’s value in 2015. After cutting more than $5 million from its budget, the district is back with a smaller request.

Approving the 46-cent levy on Tuesday will allow Kirkwood to restore many of those cuts, including the 52 teachers, support staff and administrators who were laid off, according to district officials.

If the measure is defeated, the district warns that teachers’ pay freeze will remain in place and there will be deep cuts to transportation and extracurriculars.

There’s a well-organized and vocal opposition to the property tax increase. The group Tax Fairly said the district should ask teachers to pay more for their health care and sell off a tract of land valued at more than $2 million first.

“The sky is not falling. They’re not going to run out of money to restore those cuts,” said Dan Sullivan, a resident and former educator with the group.

But the district’s chief financial officer, Mike Romay, said Kirkwood needs to be competitive in order to attract quality educators, and the property tax increase will do that.

Tony Zagora, a parent of three boys, works with pro-Proposition K group Citizens for Kirkwood Schools.

“The reality is that the district is doing everything that they can with the revenue they have,” he said.

A new school for Normandy?

The struggling district in St. Louis County is asking residents for permission to take out a $23 million bond, which would go toward a new middle school and other upgrades.

The money is needed for Normandy to remain competitive, Superintendent Charles Pearson said.

Normandy is working to regain accreditation from the state of Missouri, but right now parents within its boundaries can send their children to another district at Normandy’s expense.

“We have to keep improving the programs so the parents that once didn’t send their children to us will see us as a viable option,” he said.

The district said it will use the rest of the money to build science and technology labs at two elementary schools. The bond will not increase taxes on residents, Pearson said.

Here's how the ballot measures breakdown across the region

MADISON COUNTY

Name of measure: Madison County Regional Office of Education
What it seeks: A 1-percent sales tax increase.
Use: To be used “exclusively” for school facility purposes.

ST. CLAIR COUNTY

Name of measure: School Facility Occupation Taxes
What it seeks: A 1-percent sales tax increase.
Use: To be used “exclusively” for school facility purposes.

KIRKWOOD

Name of measure: Proposition K
What it seeks: A 46-cent increase per $100 of assessed property value.
Use: Student transportation, maintaining class sizes and funding extracurricular activities.

MERAMEC VALLEY

Name of measure: Proposition K
What it seeks: The authorization to issue a general obligation bond worth $11.75 million.
Use: Renovation of school buildings and the the construction of an early childhood center.

NORMANDY

Name of measure: Proposition N
What it seeks: Authorization to issue a general obligation bond worth $23 million.
Use: Construction of a middle school and installation of science and technology labs at Washington and Jefferson elementary schools.

PATTONVILLE

Name of measure: Proposition K
What it seeks: The authorization to issue a general obligation bond worth $23 million.
Use: Facility and school renovations and upgrades.

ROCKWOOD

Name of measure: Proposition T
What it seeks: The authorization to issue a general obligation bond worth $95.5 million.
Use: Construction of a elementary school in Eureka and the expansion of other school buildings; installation of science and technology labs.

VALLEY PARK

Name of measure: Proposition R
What it seeks: The authorization to issue a general obligation bond worth $10 million.
Use: Repairs and renovations to school buildings.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney.