Francis Howell School District voters to decide on third tax inc -

Francis Howell School District voters to decide on third tax increase in three years

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Tuesday, voters in the Francis Howell School District will decide on a 48 cent tax levy, dubbed “Prop Learn.” This comes after voters rejected two other tax increases in the past three years.

“We think there are many factors that are different this time,” said Superintendent Dr. Mary Hendricks-Harris. “One thing that comes to mind is we are seeing parents come to us. In the past, they have agreed to support it but this time they are coming to us and asking how they can lead and how they can promote this tax levy.”

Dr. Hendricks -Harris told News 4 the district listened to the community to come up with the amount of the tax levy.

She went on to say, “Another thing that is different is the amount. In the past, we have asked for something more than 50 cents and we’ve heard from our community that 48 cents is an amount that’s more palatable to many of our stakeholders.”

One of the biggest differences this time is the conversation around this issue. There is little talk of cuts. Instead, on the ballot, it specifically mentions adding staff, introducing new programs and salary increases. Dr. Hendricks-Harris confirmed teacher salaries will be negotiated this upcoming spring, as they are every year, and that a pay raise is possible.

According to the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, the average salary for teachers in the Francis Howell School District is $63,199. Across the state, the average teacher salary is $48,619.

“I don’t want to lose teachers to other districts that are paying better,” said Dr. Hendricks-Harris. “I am hopeful that we won’t have to continue to freeze our teachers.”

The discussion to add, rather than cut, is in stark contrast to November 2016 when Prop Howell, a 60 cent tax levy, was up for a vote. Then, district leaders threatened steep cuts to transportation and extra-curricular activities. Still, it failed. Prior to that, a 90 cent tax increase failed in August 2015. In fact, voters in the district have not approved a tax increase since 2004. The district has trimmed millions from its budget in recent years, including cutting some low enrollment AP courses, eliminating some elementary interventionists and literacy staff positions, and adding an extra-curricular activity fee. If Prop Learn passes, it doesn’t mean all of those eliminated programs and positions will be brought back.

“It would definitely be a combination of both but again I think we are more focused on that strategic plan. Some of the cuts we made, we won’t be reinstating. But some of them will. And then some of the money will be used to move the district forward and implementing the strategic plan,” said Dr. Hendricks-Harris.

Voter turnout is expected to be low Tuesday. Students and staff have been on Spring Break and classes won’t resume until Wednesday.

“Many parents who support us that I referenced will just be returning from Spring Break and the timing could be difficult. But, we already had a ballot issue on with being required to have our board candidate on the ballot so it made sense to us to have both of our initiatives on the same ballot,” said Dr. Hendricks-Harris.

The superintendent says if voters say “no” for a third time, “tough decisions are going to have to be made.”

“We have not spent time and energy on identifying the exact cuts that are going to have to be made, but we know costs of providing a quality education are increasing. We are fearful we won’t continue to be a high rated district that attracts families and businesses to our community,” said Dr. Hendricks-Harris.

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