The Ladue School Board will let voters decide next year whether to increase its tax levy by 49 cents.
The board voted 5-1 on Monday to place a proposition up for a public vote authorizing the school district “to increase the operating tax levy of the District by $0.49 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation.” According to the ballot language, the increase would be used for “paying for costs of educational programs, school supplies and equipment, student transportation, employee salaries, utilities, maintaining existing facilities, and other operational expenses of the District.”
If the measure is approved by voters, the adjusted operating levy for the district is estimated to be $3.24 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation. The board did not decide on the name of the proposition or when the measure would get a public vote.
District spokeswoman Susan Dielmann said Tuesday the levy would be on a ballot to impact the next academic school year, meaning it would take place in February, April or August of 2012.
The decision came after months of discussions in light of declining revenues into the district. Administrators said Monday a tax levy boost could prevent more cuts from occurring in the future.
“Should the board decide to move forward with an operating tax increase this evening, it’ll be for the purpose of reducing the amount of budget cutting we will have to do in the upcoming years,” said Ladue School District Superintendent Marsha Chappelow. “It will not be about restoring everything that we’ve cut nor is it about starting a lot of new initiatives and programs. It’s probably going to be a balance between those two.”
With no additional cuts and no tax levy increases, Chappelow said “this district – which used to be one of the most successful and considered one of the wealthiest in the area – will be over $3 million in the hole and considered a stressed school district in the state of Missouri by the school year 2015-2016.”
The decision to place the tax levy increase on the ballot came after a lengthy discussion. The board decided not to go with an “accelerated” proposal that would have placed a 49-cent increase on the ballot in 2012 followed by 30-cent increase in 2014.
Chappelow said the administration recommended against the “accelerated plan.”
“We would recommend the moderate approach to you,” Chappelow said. “And we do feel like that would financially stabilize the district – which is a crucial factor in this. … We all have to be concerned about the financial viability of this district going forward.”
Some board members felt the approach adopted Monday wasn’t going far enough.
“I don’t like to run the school district like the post office is run, in which they have one year of surplus, one year of balance, one year of deficit and then they have to have a postage increase,” said Board Member Ken Smith, who voted against the proposal. “I don’t think that’s a good way for us to do budgets. It’s a question of are we going to have a tax increase in April and then when is the next tax increase?
“And you might as well come forward and say that to the voting public,” Smith added. “Because otherwise, you can’t say to the voting public we’re going to have competitive salaries, we’re going to lower class sizes to what we first implemented in the early 2000s and we’re going to do these other things we’re going to do. Because we can’t really say that. All we can say is if we can get 49 cents now, these are the cuts we won’t have to make. You’re not giving any vision.”
Board Member Audrey Mack said “she did not want to see the district slide backwards.” She added that it’s “unfortunate that the 49 cents is not going to allow us to really fully implement all of the programs we would like to see implemented.”
“I think the other message that has to be sent out loud and clear is 49 cents is not going to sustain us and that we have got to get over this desire to not increase taxes,” Mack said. “It’s just not going to work. At some point, we’re going to have to put our money where our mouths are as a community.”
The board also got a glimpse of at a sweeping plan to overhaul the district’s facilities. Included in the presentation was a proposal to construct a new $17.94 million building for Sprode Elementary School.
While the number one priority was upgrades to Ladue Horton Watkins High School, the new Sprode Building was included in a list of “priority 2” projects.
“We looked what we anticipated the life cycle costs for the existing facility and mechanical systems of all the building system as well as the configuration of the school,” said Art Bond, a principal with Bond Wolfe Architects in St. Louis. “We think that is a logical one to focus on as a top priority in priority two.”
Mike Noonan, the district’s facilities and maintenance manager, said that presentation represented a “living document” that could change over time. He also said the proposal would take about 10 to 15 years to undertake and added its implementation is subject “timely appropriate funding” through bond issues, operating funds and private sector funding.