Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tax Increase Loses Big in Howell

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tax Increase Loses Big in Howell

Article excerpt

A property tax increase sought by Francis Howell School District officials failed by almost a two-to-one ratio in Tuesday's special election.

A simple majority of backers was needed for passage.

"This is a victory for the taxpayer," said Stephen Johnson, a former School Board member and a leader in the opposition campaign. "I am pleasantly surprised that the voters were awakened and they came out."

St. Charles County Elections Director Rich Chrismer said turnout was much higher than expected nearly 25 percent of registered voters. He had predicted that fewer than 10 percent would show up at the polls.

School district officials had said the tax boost was needed to maintain the district's academic reputation and avoid layoffs and steep cuts in programs.

The measure would have increased the tax rate by 90 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation. For a home valued at $200,000, taxes would have gone up by $342 a year.

District leaders and supporters had said the plan called Proposition Y for "Your Schools, Your Community" would help maintain current class sizes and attract and keep top-level teachers.

The School Board had already made cuts of more than $8 million for the coming school year, including reducing staff by about 80 employees, about half of them teachers.

District officials had warned that if the tax increase failed, deeper cuts were likely over the next two years. Among the possibilities they cited were more job reductions and reduced school bus transportation and athletics.

Opponents questioned the size of the increase, which would have boosted the district's operating tax levy by 20 percent and generated about $20 million a year.

They also argued that the School Board should have asked voters for higher taxes before approving salary increases for teachers, administrators and other employees.

The school board president, Mark Lafata, declined to comment Tuesday night on the election results and said the district would issue a statement Wednesday.

A teacher contract approved by the board in late 2013 gave teachers a 6.5 percent salary increase in the 2014-2015 school year and a 5 percent increase in the coming year.

School officials said that even if the salary increases had not been approved, the district still would have faced financial pressures, such as a loss of $4 million annually with the expiration last year of a temporary 20-cent tax levy first approved in 2004. …

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