Mehlville Board of Education reviews options on asking voters for levy increase

District needs to ask for levy increase by April ‘24 to maintain ESSER staff


Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines talks to a teacher in a hallway while schools were all-virtual in fall 2020.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Voters in the Mehlville School District could consider a tax levy increase to retain education supports as soon as April 2023.

For the past two months, the Mehlville Board of Education has reviewed the possibility of placing a tax levy increase on the ballot sometime in the next two to three years to maintain educational interventionists currently funded by federal pandemic aid set to expire in 2024, as well as to address competitive salaries. 

“We’ve talked about these community decisions … to some extent, we’ve kind of been thinking around what kind of school district does the community want in 2030,” Gaines said during a future ballot measure report at the Sept. 15 board meeting. “What kind of school district does the community want in 10 to 15?” 

The district has faced a number of financial challenges according to Gaines, including inflation, stagnation in the state funding formula and increasingly competitive wages. Additionally, the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money the district is receiving is set to expire in 2023-2024. The ESSER money is being used to fund 34 learning interventions, after-school supports and other learning recovery programs, as well as some facility maintenance related to air quality. The board approved the district’s ESSER plans in May 2021 with the knowledge that additional funding would be needed to maintain those supports beyond 2024. 

“If we think about ESSER-funded positions and ESSER-funded activities, we have four opportunities to go to voters before those funds go away. We got a limited window to those (funds),” Gaines said. “The ESSER funds go away, those pieces go away without additional funding.” 

The district could ask for a tax levy increase in either April, August and November of 2023, or April of 2024 to maintain the ESSER supports. It is estimated that it would take about 16 cents in local tax rate to generate the money needed to maintain the ESSER pieces that are unrelated to facilities. 

The board has also discussed the need to address competitive classified and certified salaries across the district. Mehlville’s starting salary for teachers, $41,500, is nearly $2,000 below St. Louis County average. Hancock Place and Lindbergh’s starting salaries are $46,000 and $44,000 respectively. Fox in Jefferson County is the same as Mehlville while Affton is slightly lower at $40,400. 

Gaines said it would take an additional $1.9 million in revenue to “catch up” with Mehlville’s counterparts and “that’s if we made that move in the current year.”

“It doesn’t take into account what the escalating costs for next year might be or beyond,” Gaines said. 

Between both the ESSER supports and salaries, the district is looking at a 30-cent increase in operating levy needs. A home valued at $300,000 would pay about $153 a year, while a home valued at $500,000 would pay about $255. 

However, tax levy increases in the district have historically been unsuccessful. Most of the increases Mehlville has asked for since 1970 failed — 19 out of 25. The last tax rate increase to pass in the district was Proposition R in 2015, a 49-cent increase to the district’s property tax rate for learning interventions and other educational supports. 

“Community decisions at the ballot box over time have resulted in the district being at the bottom of the county on financial measures, as well having some of the most outdated facilities in St. Louis County,” Gaines said. “Have we built community trust with how we’ve used Prop R funds … If that’s the case, if we’ve built trust, then how might the community trust us the next time we ask for something?”

The board has until January to make a decision about whether or not to put something on the April 2023 ballot. Salary reports, enrollment reports and county voter data are expected to be presented to the board before the end of the semester in December. 

“Would it make sense to do something sooner for the ESSER positions so the employees are … at ease so to speak,” Director Patrick McKelvey said. 

Gaines pointed out that competitive wages could be addressed at anytime in the next few years if the board chose to ask for a levy increase soly to maintain ESSER supports, which would probably be around 20 cents rather than 30. 

“One of the things that is possible to kind of get at what you’re talking about is we can ask in April of ‘23 (for all of the ESSER items),” replied Gaines.

Board President Peggy Hassler, who sits on the district’s finance committee, said the committee was looking at data about the possible levy increase to “package” in “the best way to present to the public so hopefully it will pass.” 

“I feel strongly about engaging the finance committee … because they are the community and that helps us build trust, I hope, with the rest of the community when they know that the finance committee, which is made up of CPAs … is working to oversee what we’re doing as a district,” Hassler said. 

The board will also have to keep in mind future facilities needs and the possibility of another bond. 

“So with all of this, the timing around bond issues becomes a little bit more interesting but we’ve started to frame out a little bit of what may work,” Gaines said. The earliest a bond would be asked would most likely be April 2024, according to a report presented by Gaines. 

The last ballot measure in the district was Proposition S in 2021, a $35 million no-tax-rate-increase bond for facilities and security improvements.