Responding to the message that a $155 million bond issue for the St. Louis Public Schools would require no tax increase, city voters gave the proposal an overwhelming victory Tuesday.
With 100 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Proposition S, won with 76 per cent of the vote, and school officials declared victory. It needed a four-sevenths majority for passage, or 57.1 percent..
With the successful campaign behind them, city school officials said requests for proposals to begin work on the schools would go out right away. Work will include construction, renovation, technology and security, and could begin in as little as six months.
School officials had emphasized during the campaign that not only would the bonds require no increase in property taxes, but part of the bonds would be covered by the $787 billion federal stimulus package approved by Congress last year.
Still, Proposition S was opposed by members of the elected school board and others. They said the Special Administrative Board (SAB), which was put in charge of the schools by the state in 2007, does not represent the people and has not shown itself to be responsible.
SAB members Rick Sullivan and Richard Gaines said Tuesday’s overwhelming victory shows that even though there may be lingering resentment about the state takeover of the school system, voters were concentrating on education, not politics.
“I don’t know that this was ever about the SAB,” Sullivan said at school headquarters Tuesday night after the Proposition S victory was clear. “It was always about kids.
“The voters in St. Louis support educating children in the best environment we can educate them in. They deserve a 21st-century education in 21st-century classrooms.”
Gaines said that anyone who has visited city schools can easily see that they badly need renovation.
“Most of the city has agreed that these buildings need work done,” he said, “and this board can get that work done. Whether the majority of the city has accepted us yet, I’m not sure.”
Proceeds from the Proposition S bonds will be spent with three priorities in mind: Improving student achievement, with more computers, more pre-kindergarten classrooms, better science labs and more gifted education programs; student safety and security; and healthy lifestyles, including better school kitchens and improved athletic facilities.
Those plans came out of a process known as FACTS -- the Facilities Advisory Committee for Tomorrow's Schools. Part of the proceeds would be used to repay money that has already been spent in an emergency effort to remove lead paint from schools.
Gaines, who spearheaded the campaign for Proposition S and was at one time an elected member of the city school board, said the way that the SAB moved quickly to spend money for lead paint removal should help reassure city residents that it will spend the new bond proceeds in the most effective, most efficient way.
He also said that if voters remembered the bickering and turmoil at the elected board before the state takeover, they should appreciate the more professional approach taken by the SAB.
Gaines noted that work was done with a design/build system that will be used whenever possible in spending the newly approved bonds as well. That speeds the process.
As election returns began coming in Tuesday night, Gaines addressed supporters of Proposition S who gathered at the school system’s headquarters downtown. Feigning disappointment, he said he wished the first numbers were better – then said that the bond issue was winning with 77.8 percent of the vote.
Though that number shrunk slightly as more votes were counted, the outcome was never really in doubt. TV watchers at the campaign gathering were paying as much attention to other numbers – the three-digit St. Louis temperature, the drubbing the Cardinals were getting at Busch Stadium – as they did the election returns.
For Superintendent Kelvin Adams, experiencing his first election as head of the city schools, it was a time to recognize and appreciate the people who campaigned hard. “Win or lose – win is what I’m saying – I want to thank you for the work you have done.”
When the victory was apparent, so was Adams’ true reaction. “Relief is the best word,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.