Community survey shows support for levy increase

Survey has been done every two years since 2014

A+teacher+from+Mehlville+High+School+works+with+students+in+person+after+the+Jan.+19%2C+2020+return%2C+high+schoolers%E2%80%99+first+time+in+school+in+person+since+November.

A teacher from Mehlville High School works with students in person after the Jan. 19, 2020 return, high schoolers’ first time in school in person since November.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

A survey commissioned by the Mehlville School District shows that a majority of voters would support a possible tax-rate increase to increase teacher salaries.

In a scientific mailed survey conducted by Springfield-based company Opinion Research Specialists from Nov. 9-30, 85 percent of the 1,103 respondents to the mailed survey said they would be in favor of a tax levy increase on the April 2023 ballot to increase teacher salaries.

A tax levy increase requires a simple majority vote in order to pass.

The district has been conducting surveys of frequent voters in the district every two years since 2014. Historically, the surveys have been conducted over the phone, however this was the first year that the survey was mailed, as well as available online. The survey was mailed to 5,000 random households in the district that have voted in at least the June 2020 election (postponed from April 2020) or April 2021 election. The mailed survey had about a 25 percent response rate.

The district and Board of Education are exploring the possibility of placing a tax levy increase on the April 2023 ballot to increase teacher and support staff salaries, and to retain some of the additional teachers and educational supports currently being funded by federal pandemic relief money set to expire in 2023-2024. The bond issue would be used for the operating levy, unlike 2021’s no-tax-rate increase Proposition S, which was used to fund facilities improvements. As the name suggests, the operations levy is used for the day-to-day operations of the district like salaries, equipment, programs and other services.

Of the 85 percent who responded favorably to teacher salary increases, 62 percent said they were strongly in favor, while 23 percent said they were somewhat in favor.

The survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent with a 95-percent confidence interval.

“Opinion Research Specialists recommended a mailed survey for a variety of reasons. One being that they’re getting a better response rate to that than from phone surveys. People are screening calls; the younger demographic especially it’s tough to get through to them,” Communications Director Jessica Pupillo said at the Dec. 15 Board of Education meeting. “Also they’re finding that people are more honest in a mailed survey. You don’t have that person on the other end of the line that you feel that you need to provide an answer that they want to hear.”

The survey also asked questions about support staff salary increases and retaining additional teachers, programs and supports currently covered through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds set to expire next school year.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents to the mailed survey said they were in support of increasing salaries for support staff, such as custodians, bus drivers, nurses, cooks and other essential workers. Of that, 57 percent said they were strongly in favor, while 30 percent said they were somewhat in favor.

Support for retaining ESSER-funded positions and programs was slightly less -— 74 percent of respondents said they were in both strongly in favor and somewhat in favor of retaining additional teachers and 73 percent said they were both strongly in favor and somewhat in favor of retaining support services such as tutoring and mental health supports.

The survey also asked how much, if any, of a levy increase voters would support. Thirty percent of respondents said they would oppose any kind of levy increase, 70 percent would support at least a 17-cent increase, 51 percent would support at least a 30-cent increase and 17 percent would support a 49-cent increase.

Past discussions at board meetings have showed that it would take a roughly 30-cent increase in the operating levy to maintain both the ESSER supports and increase staff salaries. A home valued at $300,000 would pay about $153 a year while a home valued at $500,000 would pay about $255.

Support for a levy increase was strongest among district employees, with 82 percent in favor of levy increase anywhere between 17 to 49 cents. Families with children in Mehlville schools and district residents ages 18 to 54 were 80 percent in favor of a levy increase.

Support was lowest among respondents ages 72 and older and those without children in the district, with 34 percent of respondents from both groups being opposed to any kind of levy increase.

The online survey, which was open to both parents and the general public, had somewhat better responses than the mailed survey. Ninety-two percent of parents who responded to the online survey said they were in favor of an increase for teacher salaries, 95 percent were in favor of an increase for support staff salaries and between 86 and 87 percent were in favor of an increase to maintain ESSER-funded positions and programs. Of the general public, 90 percent were in favor of an increase for teacher salaries, 93 percent support an increase for support staff salaries and between 77 and 80 percent support an increase to keep ESSER-funded programs and positions.

The majority of respondents were from the Oakville ZIP code, 63129, at 59 percent, with 22 percent from the “Mehlville” ZIP code, defined as 63125 and 63123, and 19 percent from 63128. Most of the respondents were female, at 54 percent, and 74 percent of respondents do not have a child in the district.

Additional information collected from the survey showed that 76 percent of respondents feel that the district is spending tax dollars wisely. In the general public poll, 79 percent were satisfied and 80 percent of parents polled were satisfied.

As for overall satisfaction with the district, 79 percent of respondents said they were satisfied; in the general public poll, 75 percent said they were satisfied and in the parent poll, 82 percent said they were satisfied overall with the district.

The board has not yet made a decision about whether or not to place a levy increase on a future ballot — they have until January to make a decision about the April 2023 election. A levy increase would have to be placed on the April 2024 ballot at the latest to maintain ESSER-funded items.