Kirkwood School District's Prop K
Proponents say 46-cent tax hike will ensure Kirkwood School District can continue to meet the needs of a growing student body
March 17, 2017
After months of debate, voters will head to the polls on April 4 to decide Prop K – a 46-cent property tax rate increase for the Kirkwood School District.
The proposed tax rate would mean an increase of about $220 a year on a home appraised at $250,000. If approved, the property tax increase will provide $5.8 million every year for the district to support its students and ensure financial stability.
The district has cut roughly $5 million from its budget – mostly through the elimination of 25 teachers, 24 support staff and three administrators – since voters defeated a 78-cent property tax rate hike in November 2015. Staff salaries have also been frozen and many teachers have taken a voluntary pay reduction.
District officials say Prop K is needed to avoid further cuts and meet the needs of all students as enrollment continues to increase, but not everyone agrees.
Prop K – If It Passes/Fails
Should Prop K pass, the district would be able to restore roughly $2 million of the budget cuts and some of the teaching positions, which will help address increasing enrollment and class sizes. The district could also re-hire reading and math specialist positions that were cut — positions teachers say are desperately needed.
"If Prop K passes, our most critical needs will be restored, but certainly not all of them," said Mike Romay, the district's chief financial officer.
Romay said the passage of Prop K would allow the district to restore roughly 18 of the teaching positions that were cut in 2016.
A successful Prop K not only means the district can avoid further cuts to staff and teaching positions, but help secure financial stability for its schools and maintain its current bus service, extended school day programs, clubs, and summer school and credit enhancement courses.
Should Prop K fail, staff positions will be lost through attrition, class sizes will continue to increase, and cuts will be made to the district's bus service requiring students within 3.5 miles of school to provide their own transportation. Cuts will be made to summer school and credit enhancement courses, as well as extracurricular activities including freshman sports, fourth and fifth grade band and instrumental music, and clubs such as chess, math, art, jazz band and others.
Prop K – Enrollment
The district's total enrollment has increased by more than 700 students over the past 10 years, while the district's revenue has been flat for the past four years.
"Our budget allocations are the same or less than they were 10 years ago even though the district has 700 more students," Romay said. "Students are receiving less individualized instruction and our current revenues don't cover the costs to meet students' needs."
More students and fewer teachers has meant larger class sizes. There are currently 27 students in the Robinson and North Glendale elementary school classrooms with no teacher's aide. There are also fewer reading and instructional specialists. At Kirkwood High School, 66 classes have 30 or more students.
"Teachers are feeling the cuts every day," said Kirkwood High School English teacher and girls softball coach Amy Leatherberry. She noted that teachers are spending more and more time before and after school trying to make sure their students don't feel the cuts.
"Even adding five more students to a teacher's sections literally adds hours to a teacher's day," Leatherberry said.
Those who oppose Prop K note that the district's total enrollment, projected by the district itself, is expected to decrease slightly in four years.
"Yes, we are projecting a slight decline in non-resident enrollment in the future – which affects our total enrollment numbers – but it also creates a decline in revenue, which is an important fact," said Ginger Cayce, the district's chief communications officer. "Prop K is needed to address our current resident student enrollment growth."
Opponents also take issue with the free tuition the district provides to roughly 140 children of employees who don't live in the district.
"These children receive free tuition at Kirkwood taxpayers' expense," said Martin Bennet, treasurer of Tax Fairly, a community group that opposes Prop K. "This simultaneously increases the enrollment pressures and adds a $1.6 million cost per year to the district budget."
The district noted that children of employees are not guaranteed a spot in Kirkwood schools, and that they are placed in classrooms that have space available. The district is considering freezing this benefit for new employees until resident enrollment begins to taper off. The board is expected to review the policy in May.
Prop K – Teacher Pay
Many opponents of Prop K believe salaries of district teachers and administrators are too high, noting Kirkwood teachers are the second-highest paid in the state, according to recent data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Cindi Nelson, the district's interim director of human services, said Kirkwood's teacher salaries, which are based on education and experience, are comparable to nearby districts – and in some cases lower. Nelson said roughly 86 percent of Kirkwood teachers have a master's degree and the average teacher's salary for this year is about $69,000, which is within $1,000 of the average teacher's salary at the Webster Groves and Ladue school districts.
Bennet of Tax Fairly said the compensation system currently overpays administrators and teachers with long tenure, which isn't fair to high-performing teachers without a lot of tenure.
Kirkwood believes its teachers are compensated fairly, and Nelson said teachers in neighboring districts have even higher salaries.
"Thirty percent of our teachers could walk out this door, go across (highway) 270 to the Parkway School District and make more money – and that is alarming," she said. "Our teachers have earned their pay and we want them to stay. A district that pays well attracts and retains highly qualified teachers."
Prop K – School District Property
During the debates about Prop K, there's been much talk about whether the district should sell the land it owns on Lindemann and Dougherty Ferry roads. The district purchased roughly 13 acres on Lindemann in 1963, and bought a house at 1760 Dougherty Ferry in 2006 for roughly $265,000 to gain greater access to the Lindemann property. In 2017, the district traded 1760 Dougherty Ferry for 1774 Dougherty Ferry.
"The trade greatly enhanced the ingress and egress to the Lindemann property, allowing the district to tie together two parcels to gain significant frontage on Doughterty Ferry Road," Romay said.
Bennet said the Tax Fairly group has questions about the district's trade: "The trade does not appear to be in the best interest of the taxpayer."
The district contends it is, noting the original property was appraised at $17,000 less than the property the district received.
The green space is paid for, requires very little upkeep, no taxes are paid on it and it gives students access to outdoor education. District officials say keeping the Lindemann property is in the best financial interest of the district. Selling the land would only provide short-term, one-time funds and any tax revenue received from potential housing developments on the land would not cover the additional cost of educating the children likely to move into those homes, according to district officials.
"The financially responsible thing for the district to do is hold on to the property in case a new school is needed in the future," Romay said.
Prop K opponents disagree and would like to see the district sell the property rather than raise taxes.
"This property would not only meet short-term needs, it would also provide continuing property tax revenue," Kirkwood resident Jake Gray said. "You have many higher-than-average paid faculty and staff nearing retirement and have the opportunity to be smarter with future hires and compensation structures. You can keep this property if I can keep my hard-earned income. No more taxes."
The Tax Fairly group would like to see the district sell the Lindeman property, end free health insurance and free tuition for children of employees, and redirect the technology and maintenance funds to increase budget flexibility and rethink the salary schedule prior to raising taxes. Bennet also encourages residents to check to see if their 2017 assessments are increasing.
Prop K – Town Hall Meeting
The final Prop K town hall meeting is Saturday, March 25, 9 to 10 a.m., at North Kirkwood Middle School, 11287 Manchester Road. The Kirkwood School District's financial information can be found at www.oneksdcommunity.org. For questions about Prop K call Ginger Cayce at 213-6102 or Mike Romay at 213-6107. Tax Fairly's website is www.taxfairly.info.
What Prop K Will Cost Homeowners
Appraised – Home Assessed Value – Total Tax Increase
$200,000 – $38,000 – $174.80
$300,000 – $57,000 – $262.20
$400,000 – $76,000 – $349.60
$500,000 – $95,000 – $437.00
$600,000 – $114,000 – $524.40
How The Money Will Be Spent
For every dollar invested:
• 70 cents to teachers and instructional specialists
• 11 cents to teaching assistants and support staff
• 7 cents to classroom instructional items
• 8 cents to safety, nurses, student transportation, property insurance
• 4 cents toward administration