Webster Groves voters reject bond issue, tax increase, but bonds win in other school districts
Voters in the Webster Groves School District said a resounding no Tuesday to two proposals — a bond issue and a tax increase — that will mean layoffs of teachers and cancellation of plans to expand and improve district facilities.
While those proposals were soundly defeated, voters in Rockwood and Ferguson-Florissant put past controversies behind them and gave solid majorities to bond issues designed to improve facilities in both of those districts.
In Webster, voters rejected Proposition S, a 65-cent increase in the district’s operating tax levy, and Proposition W, a $28 million bond issue that would have increased the district’s tax rate by 28 cents. Had both passed, Webster Groves would have had the highest combined school tax rate in St. Louis County.
But neither proposition came close to passage. The tax levy lost, 5,113 to 3,688, or 58 percent to 42 percent, while the bond issue lost 4,973 to 3,846, or 56 percent to 44 percent.
In the city of St. Louis, two seats were contested on the elected school board, which has no power over the district that is run by an appointed special administrative board. Leading the pack was challenger Charli Cooksey, and second was incumbent Katherine Wessling. Board President David Jackson came in third but lost his seat.
Cooksey’s campaign generated some controversy because she received a $30,000 campaign donation from an organization that works with Teach For America to provide training and support.
In Webster Groves, when asked Tuesday night why she thought the vote was so negative, school district spokeswoman Cathy Vespereny said:
“I don’t know. I would like to know. I expect we’ll find out.”
Vespereny said that the Webster school board will meet Monday and has already drawn up two budgets, one with the money from the tax increase and the other without it.
As a result of the negative votes, Vespereny said, 33 positions will be eliminated, including an unspecified number of teachers, and programs will be cut.
“That’s what our budget is made up of,” she said.
Because of the loss of the bond issue, Vespereny said, plans to end the use of trailers as classrooms will have to be scrapped, a sixth-grade center won’t be converted to an elementary school and other changes also will be canceledl.
Asked how the district will achieve the improvements it had planned without the extra money, Vespereny said, “We are going to sit down and take a look at what happened and figure out what is best for children.”
In Rockwood, where two bond issues have failed in recent years, voters approved nearly $69 million in bonds that would pay for improved technology and increased security along with better athletic fields.
The district has suffered from negative publicity in recent years, including a highly critical state audit and the departure of board members and a superintendent. But the new superintendent, Eric Knost, has emphasized fiscal responsibility in the district and actively promoted the benefits of Proposition 4.
With 100 percent of the vote counted, the Rockwood bonds were winning, 9,913 to 3,528, or 74 percent to 26 percent.
In Ferguson-Florissant, where the departure of Superintendent Art McCoy raised questions about a predominantly white board in a district with a largely African-American student body, voters gave strong support to Proposition I, a $31 million bond issue to pay for safety and security improvements as well as conversion of one of the district’s buildings into a STEAM center to teach science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
With 91 percent of the vote in, the measure was winning 6,364 to 2,268, or 74 percent to 26 percent.
Also in Ferguson-Florissant, where two seats on the board were at stake, Courtney Michelle Graves became the second African-American board member by capturing an open seat. Brian Scott Ebert, who is white, retained his seat on the board.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit challenging how Ferguson-Florissant board members are elected, saying that because they are chosen at-large instead of from districts, black voters’ influence is diluted. The suit said the district violates federal voting rights laws; the district disputes that claim.
In the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District, voters approved Proposition K, a $6.1 million bond issue to fund additional space for growing enrollment in its pre-school and early childhood programs. The proposal won 1,434 to 584, or 71 percent to 29 percent.