The experience levels of St. Louis Public School (SLPS) teachers and principals are steadily dropping, district leaders say. And that is a major reason why they are asking city residents to support a property tax increase of 75 cents per $100 in assessed value on the April 5 ballot. The tenure decline is directly related to the district’s inability to provide competitive wages, saidEdmond Heatley, the district’s chief human resources officer.
SLPS has not been able to compete with regional districts’ salaries since 2009, Heatley said. Starting pay for a SLPS teacher is $38,250, which is in line with several districts in St. Louis County. However after the first three years, “we lose our competitive edge. County schools always give us a run for our money,” he said.
He included Hazelwood, Ladue, Webster, Riverview Gardens and Jennings school districts in those that outmatch SLPS. In Kirkwood, starting pay is $43,000.
Before 2009, the teachers’ and administrators’ average tenure was 10 years or more. Now the average is five to seven years of experience, he said.
“When we recruit, we put a lot of money into training,” he said. “We lose that investment when teachers leave us. We have hard-to-fill areas. We want to make sure every position is filled on day one.”
This is the first time since 1991 that the district has requested a permanent property tax increase. 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.
MSD on ballot twice
The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) has two propositions (Y and S) on the ballot. MSD’s service area includes all 62 square miles of St. Louis city and 462 square miles (approximately 90 percent) of St. Louis County – serving about 1.3 million people.
Proposition Y asks voters in St. Louis and St. Louis County to approve a $900 million bond issue for wastewater improvement projects. The federal government is requiring MSD to complete these projects in order to prevent wastewater from ending up in Missouri rivers. They are part of the district’s $4.7 billion, 23-year federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
As MSD has done in the past (2004, 2008 and 2012), it is presenting voters with two options for financing the next four of years of work. The federal agreement calls for $1.5 billion in wastewater projects from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2020. If voters approve Prop Y, the average single family home’s monthly MSD bill eventually increases from today's $40.72 per month to $60.44 per month on July 1, 2019.
If voted down, annual wastewater rate increases in the near term will be even higher. For example, the average single family home’s monthly MSD bill eventually increases from today’s $40.72 per month to $95.13 per month on July 1, 2019. However, the overall long-term cost of this work would be less.
At a March 28 press conference, minority business advocates asked residents to vote down Prop Y because they say MSD cannot tell taxpayers how many minority workers have been employed on the $755 million in construction that has already been contracted. The group said MSD has defaulted on a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement, which includes requirements for hiring minority businesses and workers.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, said the sewer district has not been hiring workers from the First Source Hiring list, which includes local, skilled workers who are unemployed or earn low incomes.
“The people on these lists have children they want to feed,” he said. “They deserve the right to work for MSD. Up until that’s happening, the question is: Why should we as taxpayers give MSD another $900 million?”
Yaphett El-Amin, executive director of MOKAN, said approving Prop Y is not residents’ only option. The sewer district can come back with the proposition in August and show it has complied with the Community Benefits Agreement, she said.
“We don’t want people to believe that this is the only bite at the apple,” said El-Amin. “They need to come back to the drawing table.”
Also on the ballot, Proposition S is basically asking for a revamp of the stormwater tax structure. Under the current structure, not all customers pay the same or get the same level of service.
If approved, those who live in St. Louis County along the Interstate 170 beltway would see a drop in property tax by an average of $22. But in St. Louis County past the I-270 beltway, property tax bills would increase by an average of $47. In St. Louis, tax bills would increase by an average of 72 cents.