Transfer likely will be OK’d, telephone survey indicates

Survey results not a surprise to superintendent

By BURKE WASSON

A recent telephone survey of Mehlville School District residents shows that voters likely would support a debt-service transfer now on the Nov. 4 ballot over a previously proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase.

The survey, which was conducted through 400 interviews in July by consulting firm UNICOM•ARC, found that 64.8 percent of respondents would favor a debt-service transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation into the district’s operating fund.

At the same time, 59 percent of those 400 participants would oppose restoring the district’s tax rate to its 2006 level by in-creasing the overall tax rate by 37 cents.

When asked later in the survey about the proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase after answering several other questions regarding that increase, 50.3 percent were in favor and 49 percent were opposed.

The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Based on these survey results, the Board of Education unanimously voted last week to place the 31-cent debt-service transfer, now known as Proposition T, on the Nov. 4 ballot. The measure would generate roughly $5.6 million per year to the operating fund. The ballot measure would not in-crease Mehlville’s overall tax rate, but the transfer would extend the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years.

Prop T would be used primarily to maintain the district’s budget. Funding the teachers’ salary schedule — which was frozen in the 2008-2009 school year — along with addressing technology needs and reinstituting supplies and textbooks that were cut this year also likely would be done with funds from Prop T.

The Board of Education at this time will not pursue the 37-cent tax-rate increase that had been proposed through the public-engagement program COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Superintendent Terry Noble said with the economy in its current state, he was not surprised that survey participants would “probably not” support a tax-rate increase.

“The results of the survey did not surprise any of us,” he said. “What the survey basically told me was that the community would be in favor of the transfer of the debt-service levy. That is a no-tax-increase issue.

“At this time, the community is not in favor of a tax increase, or the restoration of the tax levy to 2006. I don’t see that as a negative. I think the factor involved there primarily is the economy. The initial rating when that question was asked to the 400 participants, it received a 38-percent approval rate. Once additional questions were asked of respondents and we educated them about what the COMPASS proposal was about and the purpose of what the tax increase was for, that rating went up to 50 percent. So I think we can feel good about that.”

At the same time, Noble said the survey also shows that the district needs to improve on its community outreach. The survey showed that only 30.3 percent of participants were familiar with COMPASS while 69 percent were not familiar with the public-engagement program.

“One thing the survey said to me was that we need to do a better job of educating our public,” Noble said. “Our vision needs to be more of a shared vision with our public. So we’ve got some work to do in the school district to make that happen. And myself as superintendent, I need to work harder to earn the trust of the community. They need to know me better and my leadership role and to get to know this Board of Education the way I know (the board) and how competent and dedicated (they) are as a board. And sometimes, it just takes time for that. This is a new Board of Education relatively speaking, so we’ve got work to do.”

The proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase was to help fund the long-range plan that incorporates suggestions from those who participated in the community-engagement sessions. That increase would restore Mehlville’s tax rate to its 2006 level as the district’s total tax rate per $100 of assessed valuation would jump to roughly $3.64 from $3.27.

Respondents also were asked various statements that have been made about the previously proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase.

Those statements, along with their support, are as follows:

• “You don’t have to look far to see what happens to communities that fail to maintain their schools. We need to pass these proposals.” The survey shows 61.8 percent agreed and 32.3 percent disagreed.

• “A strong school district is the anchor of our community and our neighborhoods. We must protect the quality of our schools.” The survey shows 90 percent agreed and 8.3 percent disagreed.

• “In light of all the recent controversy, I just don’t trust the Board of Education to spend additional tax dollars wisely.” The survey shows 66.8 percent agreed and 27.5 percent disagreed.

• “Our tax rate for Mehlville School District has rolled back about 9 percent since 2000. I think restoring the rate to the 2006 tax levy only makes sense.” The survey shows 56 percent agreed and 37.3 percent disagreed.

• “With all the economic uncertainty, I’m not for paying higher taxes to support our schools.” The survey shows 52.3 percent agreed and 44.8 percent disagreed.

• “Restoring the tax rate to the 2006 level will cost the owner of a $100,000 house just $70 per year in higher taxes. That’s $1.35 a week or about the cost of a Sunday newspaper. That’s not much to pay to maintain quality schools for our kids.” The survey shows 60.6 percent agreed and 37 percent disagreed.

• “If this proposal passes, we can reduce overcrowding problems at our two high schools.” The survey shows 49.8 percent agreed and 31.8 percent disagreed.

• Property values are declining all over the county. If we don’t keep our schools strong, many homeowners in our area will lose the investment they’ve made in their homes.” The survey shows 64 percent agreed and 31.5 percent disagreed.

• “I like our schools and I love our community. I just can’t afford to pay higher taxes to support education.” The survey shows 59.5 percent agreed and 38 percent disagreed.

• “The proposal will provide the revenue that is needed to provide our students with up-to-date technology and other essential educational programs.” The survey shows 66.3 percent agreed and 25.3 disagreed.

• “A committee comprised of volunteers from the community worked to develop the recommendations for improvements that this referendum would fund. We should support their efforts by voting ‘yes.'” The survey shows 62.8 percent agreed and 30.5 percent disagreed.