South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Supporters make case for Mehlville Proposition E


Supporters of the Mehlville School District’s Proposition E on the ballot Tuesday, April 4, are hoping the school district’s voters approve the first tax rate increase since 2015.

Proposition E, for “Ensuring high-quality teachers and support staff for Mehlville School District students,” is a 31-cent per $100 of assessed value operating levy increase to fund competitive salaries to recruit and retain teachers and support staff, including bus drivers, custodians, cooks, nurses, front office staff and more.

To pass, a simple majority vote is required.

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.

If Prop E is approved by voters, 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.

The last time the district asked voters for an operating levy increase was in 2015 when Proposition R, a 49-cent tax increase, was put-on the ballot to restore cuts the district made to programs and services for students. It passed with 72.5 percent of the vote.

In November, the district conducted a voter survey 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 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 ask for a tax levy increase comes after the district has faced a number of financial challenges according to several presentations given to the Board of Education by Superintendent Chris Gaines, including inflation, stagnation in the state funding formula and increasingly competitive wages.  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.

“The community is going to have some decisions to make about the school district not only this spring but the coming years … There’s a lot of investment that needs to happen — there’s such potential here and I think we’ve brought a lot of that out over the past few years,” Gaines said in a previous interview with The Call. “I worry if we aren’t successful with Prop E, some of that potential will be knocked out from under us.”

At a Prop E information session Feb. 27 at Andre’s,, Board President Peggy Hassler, Mehlville-Oakville United Prop E committee head Rebecca Bahora, Gaines and others answered questions from the audience about Prop E and more details about what the revenue from the tax increase would be used for.

“If you think about a pie with seven pieces, four of those pieces would be going to teacher salaries. Two of those pieces would be going to support staff salaries and one piece of that pie to a mix of others,” Gaines said at the information session. “We’ve seen a growing number of resignations and moves recently over the last few years … and the pipeline issue with college — we’re just seeing fewer and fewer kids in college major in education. So the teacher shortage is very real across the country and for us, we’ve had some specialty positions that we really struggle with filling … We need to get people here. We need to be able to attract folks out of college as well as teachers with a little bit of experience from other districts and then once we get them here, we got to be able to keep them.”

One question asked the panelists why they were in support of Prop E.

“Our children deserve to have the best teacher money can buy. Prop E is not only going to attract those kinds of people but it’s also going to retain them. Retaining a teacher or any kind of staff member is an opportunity to excel and grow into their careers, which I think directly benefits our students … Also, if you want to boil it down to our teachers and our staff are people, they’re community members. They have homes, they have families, they have bills to pay. I don’t think they should be given the choice between loyalty to a district and a fair salary.”

Hassler explained that the board settled on the 31-cent figure after several months of comparing teacher salaries, and wanting to make sure that any salary increases are sustainable into the future.

“We can’t ask just enough to give everybody a raise just one year because then we’ll find ourselves in a deficit the next few years if we’re not careful,” Hassler said.

Another question asked what would happen if Prop E fails, to which Gaines replied, “Long-term, we’re in big trouble.”

“The labor market today, even in education, I’ve never seen school districts compete for people the way that we’re competing now. To not be able to do that at a competitive level will hurt us in the long run especially. I think in the short-term, I think it will be a massive blow to our employees, that the community doesn’t support them,” Gaines said. “We are in the people development business and we need quality big people to help us develop little people, and we need to invest in those big people so we can have the best big people we can get to be in front of the little people … that’s why we need Prop E, that’s why we need to invest in our people.”

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