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Francis Howell School District places tax increase levy on April ballot

Proposition Learn logo [Logo by FHSD]

On. Dec. 21, the Francis Howell School District Board of Education voted to place a 48-cent operating levy increase, titled Proposition Learn, on the April 3 ballot. Proposition Learn aims to help facilitate upgrades to schools within the district.

The district’s current operating levy is $4.18 per $100 of assessed valuation. Should Proposition Learn see voter approval, the adjusted operating levy would be $4.66 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The last time voters in the district approved an operating tax levy increase was in 2004. The district asked for a levy in November 2016 and August 2015, both of which failed to garner sufficient voter support.

According to district Superintendent Dr. Mary Hendricks-Harris, the levy will support technology, equipment and fixture updates that have been on hold. It also would create new science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] courses for kindergarten through grade 12 students.

Levy funds also would go toward hiring additional staff to assist struggling students and meet increased student needs, provide updated classroom materials, bolster funding for extracurricular activities and increase staff compensation. Salaries have been frozen for staff members for two years.

According to Hendricks-Harris, the district’s goal is to address the list of needs in time for the 2018-19 school year.

“We’re seeing an increase in students with social and emotional needs, and we want to provide some proactive and some reactive programming for those students,” Hendricks-Harris said. “We also need to address our salary freezes. We have some members of our support staff that are not receiving competitive salaries.”

Although the district is proposing a tax increase, cuts also have been made to ensure a balanced budget and financial stability regardless of the April vote. Some cuts include transition-day transportation, security officers, paraprofessionals for classroom intervention, furniture and fixtures, staff, teachers, facilities’ maintenance and support staff positions. The district also has cut online and start-up courses.

“We have taken steps to reassure that we are financially sound for the time being; it’s just the quality of the education that’s concerning over the course of time,” Hendricks-Harris said. “We want to be able to move forward.”

According to a district press statement, the costs of goods and services associated with operating the school district continue to increase, including utilities, transportation, insurance, and special education. The statement indicates that voters in every other school district in St. Charles County have approved a levy or bond issue in the past three years.

“We’re trying to stay really very focused on passing the levy and the great things we’ll be able to do and providing quality education for kids,” Hendricks-Harris said. “If it weren’t to pass, it would certainly affect our programming moving forward, but we haven’t identified what reductions would be made or in what order.”

If Proposition Learn does pass, Hendricks-Harris said the district will reinstate previously cut services and programs.

“We have some struggling students that we want to provide interventions for, and we need to reinstate some things and add enrichment activities at our elementary schools,” Hendricks-Harris said. “We had to cut some courses that we’d like to reinstate. Those are all things that the bond issue and budget would go toward. Those would be the priorities, even in future years, but we want to have flexibility in other areas. As we continue to grow, we can then make adjustments to that priority list.”

A simple majority from the April election is needed to approve or shut down the measure.

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