At its May 21 meeting, the Francis Howell Board of Education proposed putting a 90-cent tax levy increase, titled Proposition Y, on the Aug. 4 ballot.
The last tax increase approved for the school district was in 2004. That increase raised the operating levy by 89 cents.
“It’ll be almost 11 years since that last tax increase that voters were asked to approve, and in that time, costs have gone up substantially, but we haven’t been able to significantly impact our revenue in the intervening times,” Kevin Supple, chief financial officer for Francis Howell, said. “We’ve had to live with the increase that was granted in 2004. So, here we are 11 years later, and we’re now needing to ask for some additional support to continue the great work that we’re doing.”
During the meeting, the board was presented with different scenarios that showed the various impacts on the budget if the district received a 45-, 65- or 90-cent tax increase. Members then made the motion, which passed 5-2, to place a tax levy on the August ballot. That motion was followed by one authorizing the district to ask for a 90-cent tax increase. It passed with a tighter margin of 4-3.
If voters approve Proposition Y, the district says it will be able to use the additional funds to restore some of the cuts it implemented for the 2015-2016 school year, specifically in curriculum development and technology. However, if the levy is not passed, the district said it will have to continue making more cuts and further reduce its spending.
Board member Amy McEvoy voted yes for the tax levy, but voted against the 90-cent increase.
“I will agree that 90 cents, we could use that, but at the same time I think when you’re going out to the public and looking at what other school districts have gotten or what they have not gotten, I think 90 cents is too high to ask,” McEvoy said.
Board member Mike Sommer voted against both the tax levy and the increase.
“I think probably one of the things we need to do is look at our salaries and benefits – that does make up more than 80 percent of our total budget,” Sommer said. “Although a lot of other political subdivisions and other school districts in the area have had to hold the line on salaries, (we have) continued to give raises to our employees, and that’s something that we probably need to look at going forward. Over the past eight years, I’ve had a chance to look at how our salaries have increased versus the consumer price index. On average, the CPI has increased right around 1.9 percent, but the increases in the wages we have given out have been twice that amount.”
Supple, however, does not believe that the district has a spending issue, but rather that the tax increase is necessary because district costs have gone up. He said prices have risen 45 percent since 2008 for consumer goods and services that are not just used by the district, but by everyone in the community.
“I don’t know that the district has been spending too much money,” Supple said. “I think we’re under the same price pressure that other individuals, other organizations find themselves in. We have less of an opportunity as a school district to marginally increase our income.”
Regardless, both McEvoy and Sommer said they feel a 90-cent increase will be hard to propose and pass with the public.