Mehlville school voters will consider 31-cent operating levy increase

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Editor’s note: On Monday, the Mehlville Board of Education called a special meeting Jan. 24 to discuss changing the name of the proposition, after this article was written and published. 

Voters in the Mehlville School District will vote on the first tax rate increase since 2015 after the Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously last week to place a 31-cent tax rate increase on the April 4 ballot.

The measure will be called Proposition M and, if passed, would increase the operating levy 31-cents per $100 of assessed valuation to fund competitive salaries for teachers and support staff. The average annual tax increase for the owner of a $200,000 home would be approximately $118 per year, or just under $10 per month. The increase for an owner of a $300,000 home would be approximately $177 per year or about $15 per month. 

A tax levy increase requires a simple majority to pass.

The Jan. 19 vote was the culmination of several months of discussion at Board of Education meetings about placing a tax levy on the ballot to address competitive salaries and to maintain education interventionists currently funded by federal pandemic aid set to expire in 2024.

The board has been weighing what exactly to ask voters for with the tax levy increase — whether or not to strictly address teacher and support staff competitive salaries, or to address competitive wages as well as funding to keep the interventionists once that federal pandemic aid expires.

“We’ve long shown possibilities out into the future … but as far back as May of ’21 is when we first really talked about with these (interventionist) positions that if we are going to fund them beyond fiscal year 2024, that a levy would be needed for that support … We look across all of those operating levy needs and it adds up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-cents,” Superintendent Chris Gaines said at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting.

The district conducted a voter survey in November to gauge the community’s support for an operating levy increase, with over 85 percent of respondents indicating they would support a tax rate increase to increase teacher and support staff salaries. The survey also asked how much of an increase voters would support, with 70 percent supporting at least a 17-cent increase, 51 percent supporting a 30-cent increase and 17 percent supporting a 49-cent increase.

The last time the district asked voters for a tax rate increase was in 2015 with Proposition R for Restore, a 49-cent increase to restore budget cuts the district made. Prop R passed with 72.5 percent of the vote.

After some discussion, the board came to the consensus to ask voters for the rate increase to fund salaries for teachers and other staff, while possibly going back to the voters with another tax-rate increase in either November 2023 or April 2024 to continue funding the education interventionists before the federal funds expire.

“All seven board members value all of our district staff, including our … interventionists,” Board President Peggy Hassler stated in a press release about Prop M. “Taking into consideration the feedback of the community, the board felt it prudent to ask for 31 cents on the April 2023 ballot for competitive salaries and retention of all employees while standing committed to asking the voter to support (federal)-funded student opportunities in a future election, either in November 2023 or April 2024.”

More than 80-percent of the district’s budget goes to salaries and benefits for district staff. The district also has the lowest blended tax rate of all the 22 school districts in St. Louis County. About 76-percent of the district’s budget comes from local taxes.