Voters in the Mehlville School District will vote on the district’s first facilities bond issue since 1992 after the Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday night to place a 12-cent no-tax-rate-increase bond issue on the April 6 ballot.
The measure will be called “Proposition S” for “Safe Schools, Safe Kids” and, if passed, would fund $35 million in safety upgrades and maintenance on existing facilities, including secure vestibules at all school entrances.
Thursday’s vote was what Superintendent Chris Gaines called “the end of the runway” in a process that began in 2017 when he publicly said that the district was eyeing 2020 as the year to pursue its next ballot measure. The district was slated to pay off its certificates of participation, or COPs, last year.
The COPs were issued from Proposition P, a 49-cent ballot measure approved by voters in 2000 that was aimed at facilities but was an operational tax-rate increase. Today, the district levies about 45 cents from Prop P and, with the COPs being slated to be paid off, the 45 cents can be used for operations or facilities without increasing the current tax rate.
With Prop S, the district will ask voters to funnel 12 cents of the 45-cent levy into a $35 million facility investment. The district will transfer the remaining 33 cents toward operations.
“We really are the back of the bus in the county, we’re the last in terms of our facilities investments. The rest of the county has invested over $2.4 trillion in their facilities since we’ve done anything in 2000,” Gaines said at the Jan. 21 board meeting. “So this possibility we identified way back when and have been talking about every once in a while since we have this ability, without changing the overall levy, taking that 45 cents and being able to have a significant investment in facilities and infusion into operations.”
If approved by voters, the district will issue bonds and use the funds to complete facility projects, paying the debt back over time. The money could not be used in any other way, such as operating expenses like salaries, supplies and benefits — only for capital expenses.
A bond issue requires a 57.14-percent “yes” vote rather than a simple majority required of operational hikes.
In August, the board declined to place the bond on the ballot in the November 2020 election because of the economic impact from COVID-19, despite the fact that the bond issue is a no-tax-rate increase.
The 12 cents will be dedicated to funding facilities improvements and basic maintenance items in every school in the district, like upgrading bathrooms, outdoor lighting and improving parking. The measure would also fund the addition of secure entry vestibules at every school, providing locked entries with shatterproof film that open directly into the school office rather than having to go into the school to access the office.