Across St. Louis school districts are slashing millions from their budgets or asking for tax increases. Parkway Schools recently approved drastic cuts; Edwardsville is in the midst of making tough decisions about its budget, too. Now Ladue, one of the most highly-respected districts in the state of Missouri says if a proposed 49 cent tax increase on the ballot April 3 fails, it will become a drastically different district.
"Here`s really the bottom line: the district`s been educating more and more students with less and less funding and continuing to deliver excellent results," said Superintendent Dr. Marsha Chappelow, "at some point this simply becomes unsustainable."
Chappelow was addressing a crowd inside the cafeteria at Ladue Horton Watkins High School for a forum on "Proposition 1". She stood near a big banner, congratulating the school for being one of America`s best.
"We have done about everything you can do," she said, referring to the $7.6 million in cuts they`ve made in the last three years. "At some point you get to the point, especially with an increasing enrollment, where you can`t continue to offer the same services for students. So that`s why we`re at this point. We`re asking what the community wants to have in the education system."
They say they need this tax increase, not to better serve students, but to keep their current standards. The district says it would be the first operating tax levy hike since 1993, and it`s necessary because falling home values mean property tax revenue is down, too.
"And property taxes provide us 84 percent of our $50 million in revenue," said Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Dr. Jason Buckner.
About 75 people came to listen to the presentation, including taxpayer Doug Jones.
After a 45-minute presentation by Chappelow and Buckner the crowd split into small groups to talk and ask questions.
Jones admitted he wasn`t really won over. "I am against it," he said. "I had my own business and the economy hit me hard. I had to make drastic cuts in order to try to stay alive."
"I think it`s the nature of the beast in today`s economy. You can`t keep going back to the well," he said. "When things go down, you`ve got to make cuts. As hurtful as they may seem, you have to make cuts to live within your budget."
Buckner and Chappelow admitted this is a difficult time to ask taxpayers to pay more taxes.
"We understand the economy turned and affected people greatly, from senior citizens to business owners to public schools," he said, "but we just hope the direct connection to good public schools and what it brings to a community and to property values, we just hope that really is the final picture people think of when they go to vote."
The election is April 3. If Prop 1 fails, Ladue will cut $2.1 to $2.2 million from its budget. That means nine teaching positions, five administrative jobs, and a guidance counselor will be cut. Chappelow said Spanish classes and the district`s music program will be impacted, and the field trip budget will be slashed.