Lindbergh voters to consider 65-cent tax-rate increase Nov. 2

Simpson to donate pay hike for 2010-'11 back to district.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Simpson acknowledges school district officials have an uphill climb to educate voters about the need for a 65-cent tax-rate increase the Board of Education has placed on the November ballot.

The Board of Education voted 6-0 last week to place the tax-rate increase on the Nov. 2 ballot.

If approved by voters, Lindbergh’s total tax rate would increase to $3.81 per $100 of assessed valuation from the current rate of $3.16. But district officials noted that even with the increase, Lindbergh’s tax rate still would remain among the lowest in St. Louis County.

A 65-cent tax-rate increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $247 per year and the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $124 per year, according to information presented to the board June 8.

If approved, the tax-rate increase would generate more than $8.3 million beginning with the 2011-2012 school year.

The school board’s vote to place the tax-rate increase before voters comes after making $4.7 million in cuts for the 2010-2011 school year and roughly $2 million in cuts for the 2009-2010 school year. For the coming school year, 60 positions were eliminated, including 45 teaching positions. But even with the $4.7 million in reductions, the school district still faces a nearly $4 million budget shortfall.

Board President Ken Fey said the need to seek a tax-rate increase is “pretty evident.”

“… With $4.7 million in budget reductions going into effect very, very soon, I know our class sizes are going to get larger,” he said. “Right now, we’re losing talented teachers to neighboring districts such as Kirkwood and Parkway because we can’t stay competitive with our salaries and benefits. And to me, this last one that I thought of is pretty important I think because I’ve been here all my life.

“We all know that great schools are the foundation of our community. The Lindbergh School District is just a big neighborhood and generations of families have grown up here and they’ve grown up to expect a very, very good education. I grew up here. I’ve sent all my children through this district. Now my son lives in this district. It’s just that type of district where that type of repetitive action happens and these people in this community expect us to give them and their children a good education. And at the present time, it’s getting very, very hard to do that …,” Fey said.

While the board voted to place a 65-cent tax-rate increase on the ballot, a recent telephone survey conducted by Patron Insight of Stilwell, Kan., found 58 percent of respondents would support a 25-cent tax-rate increase. The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, found 48 percent of respondents would sup-port a 40-cent tax-rate increase and 43 percent of respondents would support a tax-rate increase of 55 cents.

The survey cost $13,300.

During an interview with the Call, Simpson compared following the advice of the survey to “driving us off a cliff.”

“So it might be a great survey and accurate in its way, but we drown if we were to try to go for a 25-cent (tax-rate increase). It would only force us to go in two years or another year later for another 25 cents and then another year for another dime or another nickel,” he said. “We’ve got to get the revenue back to where it was a couple of years ago, three years ago. So we are with great respect saying: We believe our patrons can rise to the understanding and even with the survey not supporting the number, we’re just going to have that bonding with our community so that they understand as best they can and we make that effort to where they realize it’s pretty plain what we’re after and it’s pretty plain our necessity and it’s pretty plain that less money is driving us off a cliff the same as no money.

“We have to have enough revenue to run the district in the manner that has produced all these great results of the past and we will then produce the great results of the future.

“In that survey in a non-numbers way, the survey company is always amazed at Lindbergh. They said we have the highest patron satisfaction scores they’ve run across on every topic — every single category. And they’re higher this time than they were two years ago …,” Simpson said, noting the scores two years ago were better than they were two years earlier.

“So we’re going in an upward direction consistently and so our patrons are very satisfied with the quality. And so the survey really also shows a great place to raise kids — a great school district in partnership with a great community resulting in a great quality of life … It doesn’t get better than those characteristics and that’s what’s at stake. We have something that’s pretty special and we have to make sure even in these tough times that we keep what is ours …”

Noting “the frustration in America is very real,” the superintendent said, “We can’t change Washington it seems like. I don’t think that I can do anything to make a difference in Washington, D.C. I can’t change the oil in the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t like that oil coming ashore coating all those birds … and destroying their way of life. I can’t change it. I can’t change anything in this state and I have tried. I can’t change national. I can’t change state. I can’t change disasters, but what can we do? We can make sure our part of the world, our Lindbergh area, our children, our families, our way of life, we can make that a refuge for us and keep that strong. And that’s what the 65 cents is all about.”

In other business June 8, the board:

• Voted to adopt a budget for the 2010-2011 school year that projects revenues of $53,892,275 with anticipated expenditures of $57,828,411 — a deficit of $3,936,136.

The district will not go into the red, but will dip into its reserves, which currently total roughly $18.9 million.

• Voted in closed session to extend Simpson’s contract through the 2012-2013 school year. Simpson also announced he would donate back to the district his 5 percent raise for the 2010-2011 school year.

His current salary is $204,750.

“… Like most superintendents, I have a multiyear contract and starting in July my contract states that I would receive a 5-percent raise,” he said. “However, the teachers gave back 1 percent of their raise. We have had to downsize 60 positions and the district has a severe revenue shortfall. Based on these facts, I informed the board that I will donate my raise back to the district to help offset budget cuts to student programs. I feel this is not the time for me to keep my raise. So I hope that helps students and we get back to better times soon.”

Simpson told the Call, “… I’ve been inspired by our teachers and by their sacrifices. I want to make sure our community understands how serious this is. This is not the time for me to take a raise when my district is hurting. It’s time for leadership and it’s time to work hard to get us back healthy financially. So that’s my main priority for the coming year. It’s a historic year for our district. We have to repair our revenue because it’s severely broken.”