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 was candid about the campaign’s challenges at a rally held Wednesday, March 23 at the district’s offices. Those challenges are apathy, confusion and lack of support, said Charlene Jones, Proposition 1 campaign manager.
“Apathy,” she said, “are the people who support you but don’t quite get out to vote.” There were many exhortations 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.
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.
Lack of support, Jones 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 because some of the revenue would fund salary increases for teachers and staff. Several speakers pointed out that the district’s average teacher salary is the lowest in the region.
The business representatives all told either personal stories about the value of teachers or professional accounts of how the district is 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 youths 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!”
We agree that this proposition faces serious obstacles, especially mobilizing voters for a municipal election sandwiched in between a presidential preference primary in March and a primary for other candidates in August. We agree wholeheartedly that the district needs funding for early childhood education, alternative education and more competitive teacher salaries. We need these resources to continue the progress of the district under the steady leadership of Superintendent Kelvin Adams. We strongly urge a vote of YES ON PROPOSITION 1 ON THE APRIL 5 BALLOT.