The leader of the campaign to pass a tax levy to fund the Saint Louis Public School District on the April 5 ballot in the city is candid about the campaign’s challenges.
Those challenges are apathy, confusion and lack of support, Charlene Jones, Proposition 1 campaign manager, said at a rally held Wednesday, March 23 at the district’s administrative offices in downtown St. Louis.
“Apathy,” she said, “are the people who support you but don’t quite get out to vote.”
There were many exhortations from various speakers at the rally to help energize voters who support the $0.75 increase in the district’s tax levy – the first such increase in 25 years.
The tax increase equates to an additional $71.25 per year for the owner of a $50,000 home or $107.25 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home. This increase would generate an estimated $27.8 million in new revenue each year for the district and charter schools in the city.
If approved by voters, Proposition 1 funds would be used to continue offering early childhood education, expand character and alternative education options, improve safety and security equipment and personnel, and offer more competitive salaries to teachers and staff.
Jones said the campaign started phone banking on March 8, took the first of three direct mailings to the post office that morning before the rally, and would start 11 days of radio ads on Saturday, March 26. She said the ads would play on “gospel, hip-hop and easy listening stations – we want everybody to get the message.”
On election day – Tuesday, April 5 – the campaign will offer rides to the polls. To schedule a ride to the polls, call 314-241-7433.
Lack of support, she said, comes from the plain fact that not everyone will support a tax increase – particularly on a ballot with five initiatives, all calling for a bond issue or tax increase. That contributes to the confusion factor.
Jones said the campaign is most concerned that Rex Sinquefield has donated a reported $2 million to a campaign calling for a “no” vote on another issue on the April 5 ballot. Sinquefield is trying to defeat Proposition E, which would reauthorize the city’s 1 percent earnings tax.
“Do not confuse us with any other issue on the ballot,” Jones urged. “We are Proposition 1, and we will be listed third on the ballot.”
The event was presented as a “Labor and Business Rally,” but most of the speakers were from labor groups, and all four business speakers represented a company that holds a district contract.
Labor groups support the tax levy in large part because some of the revenue would fund salary increases for district teachers and staff. Several speakers pointed out that the district’s average teacher salary is the lowest in the region. Patrick White, president of the St. Louis Central Labor Council, said the next lowest average teacher salary in the region is $3,000 higher than the average SLPS teacher salary.
The business representatives all told either personal stories about the value of teachers or professional accounts of how the district is fair to work with and a good steward of taxpayer monies. It was, in fact, the most progressive labor leader at the rally who stated the business case for the tax increase.
“Quality school systems invite quality businesses and quality investments,” said Lew Moye, president emeritus of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unions (CBTU).
Moye also offered the most passionate defense of early childhood education. The funds for the district’s early childhood education program will be exhausted in two years without an infusion of funds from the tax levy.
Moye presented early childhood education as an antidote to youth dropping out of school, gun violence and “the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Jay Ozier, the current president of the local CBTU chapter, put that insight into slogan form.
“Vote yes for our youth,” Ozier urged, “yes for our future, yes for our schools, yes for our community and yes for Proposition 1!”
Proposition 1 is on the ballot for the Tuesday, April 5 municipal election is St. Louis city. To schedule a ride to the polls, call 314-241-7433.