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Francis Howell tax levy pulled off April ballot

Voters in the Francis Howell School District will not be voting on another tax levy increase in April.

The district’s Board of Education voted 4-3 at its Jan. 21 meeting not to place a tax levy increase on the ballot. The board took that action after voting in September to place an initiative back on the ballot after voters rejected Proposition Y, a 90-cent tax increase, in August 2015.

But the board never decided on an exact amount for a possible tax levy, although staff and the board have discussed possible levy increases of 45 cents and 65 cents. Board members in general said on Jan. 21 that they see the need to increase revenue to avoid further budget cuts; but several board members said communications have to be improved with district residents and the board must reach a consensus before going to voters with that increase request.

Board Member Chad Lange said he hasn’t changed his position since September.

“It’s still too early to try to go ahead, at least right now,” Lange said. “Is it needed? Yes, it’s needed.”

Board Member Rene Cope said no district community group has stepped up in support of a tax increase.

Board Member Amy McEvoy said she was worried about the impact of further budget cuts and noted that she would not vote for reducing bus transportation.

Board Member Mike Sommer said the issue wasn’t going away. But Board President Mark Lafata said the board needs more time before placing anything on the ballot.

Lafata, Cope, Lange and Board Member Cynthia Bice voted for a motion not to move forward with placing a tax levy on the ballot. McEvoy, Sommer and Board Member Sandra Ferguson voted against the motion.

Six years of lowered property values, increased costs, a special tax levy expiring and continued underfunding in state aid have hurt district finances, according to district officials. Nevertheless, Proposition Y lost handily on the August 2015 ballot, receiving 6,663 votes or 33.77 percent to 13,065 votes or 66.23 percent against.

The district, which has more than 17,000 students, cut $8.2 million in staff and other expenses for the 2015-16 school year. The board also directed the district staff to cut another $4 million in the 2016-17 school year, which includes $3.2 million in personnel and $800,000 in other expenses. These cuts could include more than 20 jobs, including teachers and support personnel.

Another consideration being discussed is cutting bus transportation by as much as $5 million in 2017, and only providing bus service to students who live more than 3.5 miles from school or who have special needs.

 

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