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St. Louis Public Schools will now have $160 million to spend on building upgrades

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Square Watson, deputy superintendent of operations at St. Louis Public Schools, tries to close a sticky bathroom window last month at Herzog Elementary School in north St. Louis.

St. Louis voters on Tuesday approved a $160 million school bond issue and increased penalties for illegal dumping. 

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The bond issue will fund $160 million in upgrades to St. Louis Public Schools buildings, covering projects such as roofing, brickwork and bathroom renovations. The trash issue will double maximum fines for illegal dumping in the city.

In final unofficial results, the school bond passed with about 87% of the vote. It needed 57% to pass. At the same time, the illegal dumping measure passed with about 85%. It needed 60% of the vote to pass.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams said the wide margin in favor of the bond means voters were sending a message.

“They support kids in the city of St Louis, irrespective of what's going on, the economy and in the pandemic, they support kids and families,” Adams said. “Secondly, I think the other message is that they trust this board to use the dollars appropriately to do the right things.”

The St. Louis Public Schools issue was called Proposition S. Education advocates describe it as a “no-tax increase” bond because it extends the current tax rate but does not raise it.

The last time SLPS passed a bond measure, it was also named Proposition S. In 2010, more than 75% of voters accepted the measure, which was for $155 million.

One of the first projects the district will undertake will be to remove fencing from multiple schools that is contaminated with lead. That will be funded with a combination of state funding and money from this bond. 

The district also said funding will be used for heating and cooling upgrades, improvements to the outside of buildings and restroom renovations. Many restrooms are old and are not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“The kids that I know that go to these older buildings are always complaining about the bathrooms,” said Matt Davis, president of the Board of Education. “It's just going to make everybody happier to come to school every day, and that's just so important to me as a parent.”

Infrastructure issues are widespread in the aging schools, many of which are more than 100 years old. St. Louis Public Schools estimates the scope of needed building upgrades is about double what the proposition will make available.

“People don't think roofs are sexy, but this flood really taught everybody that you need to have a secure roof in terms of water damage,” Adams said.

In an interview last month, St. Louis Public Schools Deputy Superintendent of Operations Square Watson said his team is used to prioritizing projects on tight budgets. His goal is to address the most dire needs while also finding projects that will inspire student confidence.

“When they come in, they get that, ‘Wow,'" Watson said, "just some of the small things that take us a long way.”

Illegal dumping

The illegal dumping measure was called Proposition F.

The fines are for “unauthorized dumping of waste or debris on private or public property, prohibited refuse, waste tire disposal, and the like.” The maximum fine will now be $1,000.

New 21st Ward alderman

A local Democratic Party leader and city employee is the newest member of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Laura Keys beat three other candidates in the race to fill the 21st Ward seat. Turnout was about 20%.

She'll serve the remaining eight months of John Collins-Muhammad’s term. He resigned in May and was later charged in a bribery scheme involving development incentives.

Keys will officially join the board when it returns from its summer break in September. If she runs for reelection, she will do so next year in the new 11th Ward because of redistricting.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke 

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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