The St. Louis Board of Education office was recently tax support central as area activists, labor leaders and business owners gathered to push for a 75-cent tax increase for St. Louis Public Schools. The measure will appear on the ballot April 5 as Proposition 1.
Proposition 1 would increase the current operating tax levy of $3.75, bringing the total operating tax levy to $4.50 per $100 of assessed valuation. The additional revenue would support the continuation of the district’s Early Childhood Education program, expand character and alternative education, improve safety and security equipment and personnel, and offer competitive salaries for teachers and staff.
The increase would benefit St. Louis public and charter schools and raise property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $142.50 a year. It would raise about $28 million for the district and needs a simple majority to pass.
Charter schools educate about one-third of the city’s school children, and would receive about one-third of the revenue after the second year of collection.
Even with the proposed increase, taxpayers in the city of St. Louis would still be paying less in taxes to public education than any of the 25 surrounding school districts.
Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, said the St. Louis Public School District is vital to the community and the students enrolled in the district.
“It’s no secret that teachers here are of utmost importance” to the students, White said. “They are their mentors, their coaches. They could be their only bright spot. The school lunch could be their only decent meal.”
White was among about a dozen speakers supporting the measure.
Tom George, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1, said raising funds to improve the schools through a tax increase was a no brainer.
“The world we live in is all about education. You take care of the young; you take care of the old,” George said. “We need to get this proposal through, and you all are the disciples that will get the word out.”
District officials said this the first tax increase requested in 25 years.
Mary Armstrong, president of the St. Louis Teachers Union (American Federation of Teachers) Local 420 said when she came through the St. Louis Public School District, it was one of the best in the metropolitan area.
She said teachers are not in the schools for the money, but when those in the District are the lowest paid in the state, it’s hard to keep them. Each year the District loses a substantive number of teachers because they can’t afford to stay, Armstrong said.
Richard Gaines, chairman of the Proposition 1 Campaign said said teachers and staff have tried to operate with a minimal budget, but it’s destructive.
“You cannot survive without revenue unless there’s a great deal of sacrifice,” Gaines said, noting that staff had been asked to work payless days. Proposition 1 is a chance to begin rebuilding, he said. “It’s vital. A teacher and a child, it all starts here.”