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Ladue School Administrator: 'Sort Of Like We're On A Sinking Ship'

District vote on April 3 will decide the direction Ladue will take going foward.

Nothing is perfect, especially in the world of education today. But these are just a few of the things the Ladue School District is currently up against.

For instance, Reed School serves lunch to its students as early as 10:30 in the morning and as late as 2 p.m. Ladue High has classes with excess of 30 students in a room and the whole district had to forgo its summer camping program.

None of this is either tolerable, or tied to the rich tradition of a district that dates back to the 1950s when the high school opened its doors to offer secondary public education starting in 1954.

Recently, the Ladue-Frontenac Patch ran a feature on claims by the Vote No committee on Prop 1.

Elementary schools, the likes of Conway, Little Ladue (Reed today), Spoede, and others go back even further than that.

With an enrollment that has increased 23 percent over 10 years and a nine percent drop in revenues, due to a slow paced economy and falling home values, the district has been put on a financial collision course. Draconian cuts will have to be made should the .49 cent tax levy put before the votes April 3 fail.

“It’s sort of like we’re on a sinking ship and the bucket we are using to bail water has a hole in it,” said Dr. Jason Buckner, chief financial officer addressing a room full of concerned residents, parents, administrators and teachers at Ladue High School Monday night. This is part of a series of presentations and round table discussions to present all sides of the issues to the voters prior to election day.

Bucker said maintaining the district finances is no different than running a home budget. “There are simply things that are out of our control. We have no say over utility rates. If we have severe winter weather (the district incurred several recent years), costs go up.” Besides, “Our money is tied up in a state mandated pension fund for our employees and we have to continue to purchase services for our schools,” he said.

Like it or not, all school districts are labor intensive. More than 80 percent of Ladue’s money is spent on salaries and benefits for its teachers and administers.

On the flip side, if the tax levy passes, then a number of things will kick into place

  • Class room sizes, grades 3-12 will remain the same. Plans are in place to keep class room sizes smaller in grades K-3.
  • The fifth grade center at the West Campus will open for school year 2013-14.
  • The district will be able to avoid expenditure reductions
  • Teachers would receive modest increases

Should the bond issue not pass:

  • $1-2 million would be cut from the budget every year going forward. The district has already cut $7 million from the budget the past four years.
  • Size of class rooms would be mandated by the number of teachers available in each district building

This report includes extensive interviews with the district’s superintendent, chief financial office, the high school principal, a retired veteran teacher and present day school member and active district parent.

4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Class size means different things to private and public schools. Students admitted to private school are admitted based on their overall ability to succeed. Public schools do not screen applicants---everyone is welcome & encouraged to learn. Public schools are in the business of educating everyone, regardless of ability or disability. So, class size is exceptionally important when dealing with a diverse student population. When class sizes in our District increase, teachers are faced with teaching 25-28 students who are performing at all points in the spectrum. We have students in our classrooms who have learning disabilities, and who are trying to catch up. We also have students with disabilities who are working very hard to overcome the obstacles they face. We also have very gifted students. So, class size means something different to public school students than it does to private school students. I know of many families in our District who have one child in private school and one child in public school for that very reason. Most private schools are not equipped to adequately address the needs of students who have a disability that affects their ability to learn or interact in social situations. Students of all abilities & disabilities are welcome in public school, & that often affects the attention given to students who do not face the same obstacles. So, while you say class sizes will not affect the overall performance of the District, I would have to disagree.
4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 02:11 AM
For the Vote No proponents, I understand not wanting to pay more taxes. I don't want to pay any more taxes either. But, when we moved to Ladue & decided to build our home, we made that decision 100% based on the schools. We considered private schools, went through the admissions process, & our oldest was admitted to several fantastic private schools. We decided to go with Ladue Schools based on a number factors. Yes, I was concerned about the impact of having such a wide range of students in one classroom, but I took comfort in the fact that the class sizes in Ladue were historically low. Also, based on the wide range of special classes & options available for high-performing students, we decided to move to Ladue. I have to think I am not alone in this way of thinking. Had we chosen private school, we most certainly would NOT have built a home in Ladue. We would have chosen a surrounding community where property values were lower and taxes were lower. At the time, it seemed worth it in light of the great schools. But, if class sizes increase, Spanish is eliminated for lower grades, music is reduced, PE is impacted, well then, it does not seem like the best decision at the time. You realize that others will have that same thought process when deciding whether to come to our community in the future. I am not asking that my kids get the same education offered by MICDS. All I want is the same education offered when I moved to this community.
cck March 12, 2012 at 02:30 AM
The plan is to increase class sizes which is the MOST critical reduction in the minds of most parents. Many Kindergarten classes already exceed Ladue standards AND MO standards. There are Kindergarten classes with 21 to 23 students and one teacher. This is far from acceptable, yet this tax increase will only prevent further increases in class size. It won't take us back to acceptable Ladue standards. One of the other cuts that will probably be made is in Gifted Education. With the increases in class size Gifted education becomes even more critical. Meeting the needs of the students at the top is difficult in large class sizes. Teachers don't have time to differentiate their instruction to the children at either end of the learning curve. This is really the crux of the matter - Class size. There are many other cuts that have been proposed that may be considered less important, but that is because the Board and Administration are trying (rightfully) to do everything they can to protect class size. There is only so much that can be cut though and class size is already rising. Also what "deep cuts" specifically have been made in Clayton? Further increases in class size DO represent DEEP cuts. By the way the average class size at MICDS is 16 and at Burroughs it is 13 (according to their web sites). Can you tell us specifically what deep cuts have been made at the independent schools in St. Louis?
cck March 12, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Ladue Schools class size policy states that class sizes meet or be lower than the desirable state class size standards as set forth by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The district's preferable class sizes are: Grades Students per Class K-3 17-19 4-5 20-22 6-8 20-23 9-12 up to 23 (determined by student selection and educational needs) The educational needs of the students will be the primary determination in all class size decisions. Class sizes are guidelines; actual class size may occasionally exceed the guidelines. Back to top Missouri's State Standards The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's desirable standards are: Grades Students per Class K-2 20 3-4 22 5-6 25 7-12 28
4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 03:25 AM
@MJF - Yes, thanks for the sarcasm, which I assumed would be forthcoming from someone from the No Group. My only point is: our District is calculating the cost per student as it is REQURED to do. It may not be the way you would do it, but it is the way that the Missouri legisature has mandated. If you disagree, take it up with the legistature. So, to call it misleading is not really fair. Do your calculations however you want but don't criticize the District for disclosing the facts that they are supposed to disclose. I am sure you and others would not hesitate to point out if the District made its disclosures in violation of Missouri statute.
CareaboutLadue March 12, 2012 at 05:12 AM
MJF- The Commit 2 Ladue website spells the cuts that will occur if Prop 1 fails. These are just some of them. You can see the full report on the website. Classroom Teachers (3-12) $585,000 Increase potential class sizes to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Maximum in grades 3-12. Anticipated to eliminate (4) FTE HS; (2) FTE MS; (3) FTE Elementary. Elementary Spanish (K-2) $145,000 Eliminate (2) FTE Music Program (4-12) $145,000 Eliminate (2) FTE Physical Education (K-12) $310,000 Replace (4) elementary PE teachers (1 at each elementary school) with certified teacher assistants; eliminate (1) middle school and (1) high school PE teacher Guidance Counseling (High School) $100,000 Eliminate 1 FTE Equivalent of (1) Additional FTE $100,000 Area to be determined. Subtotal $1,385,000 If you read the school finance report you will see that from 2009 enrollment increased 238 students and since that time appraised values have fallen 4%. The reason that Ladue has been able to last 29 years without an increase is because home values have gone up but they have fallen since 2009 at a time when enrollment has continued to grow. In response they have cut 7 million from the budget. If you research it futher you will see that Ladue teachers are not making more money but in fact are making less today than a few years ago. Again all of this is information that is out and available.
CareaboutLadue March 12, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Better yet MJF look at the slideshow presented by the district which explains all of this in better and more comprhensive detail. http://www.ladueschools.net/prop1/index.php/presentation-schedule
4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 02:03 PM
@MJF - I don't intend this to be sarcastic so please don't read that in to my question. If private elementary schools are making such deep cuts, which is resulting in much larger class sizes and drastically reduced programming, why would parents continue to pay such high tuition rates in lieu of simply sending their kids to public schools that offer the same educational opportunities? I know that it has been the position of the NO Group for some time that many families who have children in private school live in Ladue (thus home values in Ladue are higher because of families moving to Ladue for private schools). So, if those families are in a good school district, like Ladue, why not simply save $20,000/year on tuition? I guess I don't see the benefits of private school if the class sizes are on par with public schools and offerings are actually less than what you could get if you attended Ladue Schools (since Ladue still offers Spanish to all students). I don't expect you to speak for all private school families, but just wondering if you knew the motivation for staying private even if less educational opportunities are available.
Fixed Income March 12, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I find it sad that the strident voices demanding an increase in property taxes in a recession are so quick to make this about public vs private. As someone who went to a public school I have news for them. It is about the money that some of us don't have in a recession. Perhaps, they should take this into account. There are more students who live in the school's district who attend private than public. There are more private than public schools. If all those kids suddenly decided to attend Ladue, enrollment would double. Taxes would need to more than double, taking away the perceived value argument in terms of real estate. These people are subsidizing your kids and yet, you seem to treat them as ungrateful kid haters just because they have a disagreement with you over how the money is being spent at the schools. The level of opprobrium being spewed by these supporters who feel "they moved here and were promised something," is incredible. Who promised you? Some real estate agent? Where is the campaign about why I should pay more? All I hear is what a bunch of bad citizens the other side is. I see people who do not understand how taxes work, or how to read financials and who use scare tactics instead of persuasion and if we don't like it maybe we should just move. I hear everything but why I should pay more. I am sure most of the commenters here have been organized by the vote for it campaign, but it is really a pretty sad strategy. Everyone I know is voting no.
4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 03:44 PM
The public vs. private debate was initiated by the opponents of the tax increase not by supporters of Prop 1. The VOTE NO group has repeatedly brought up the fact that many of their children attend private school, & they do not wish to pay for someone else's kids. Two commenters on this site referred to supporters of Prop 1 as "communists" & people who want others to pay their bills. They argue that it is the private school families who raise home values because they move to Ladue to be near their school. So, I think the public vs. private debate is in response to those opposed to the tax increase. Honestly, if someone were to say to me, I am on a fixed income and I just cannot afford this tax increase, I understand that point of view and respect your situation. However, that is not the argument that I have been hearing. I repeatedly hear that the financial situation in our District is due to fiscal irresponsibility by the District, not the recession (as you correctly point out). I hear that the District has done nothing to address these issues despite cutting more than $7 million over 4 years. I hear that the cuts will not affect the overall quality of the education to be provided to students. And most often, I hear that if I want my children to have a quality education, I should send them to private school. So, I agree with you that there are citizens for whom this will be a hardship but you are the first one to actually express it to so far.
St. Louis is a destination March 12, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Fixed Income, You wrote "There are more students who live in the school's district who attend private than public." This is not true. For example, the MICDS website states "MICDS students come from many neighborhoods around the greater St. Louis area, and from 59 different zip codes." Repeating lies does not make them true.
Fixed Income March 12, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I have been told that 1/2 of MICDS kids live in the Ladue School District. That's about 600 just from that school. If that is also the case at John Burroughs, you would have an increase of 1/3 of the student body right there. When you add Villa, Chaminade, St. Joe's, the Lutheran, Jewish and Community schools you are going be very close, not even counting the nearby private schools like Viz, Desmet and Westminster. You are fooling yourself if you can't see it. Calling it a "lie" is simply another example of how this Yes committee simply attacks people who want to have a discussion and how it has no reasons to vote for it other than they want it. I read the No website cover to cover. All they seem to want is some credit for those schools being in the district and having an impact on home values. You then took that and spun it into something else entirely. Perhaps if you are still getting a paycheck this is no big deal to you. If you are living off savings that have been returning almost nothing and getting Social Security that has seen only one increase in three years combined with rising costs for everything, maybe you would not be so selfish. Your response is that maybe I should just move if I can't afford it. My response is to vote no. We are all cutting back. I will sacrifice for worthy ideas, I will not sacrifice so they can all get raises.
4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I, too, have read the NO Website cover to cover and have found many misleading facts. One example deals with the home values you discuss. You name all of the private schools within the "Ladue School District" but the NO website only quotes the average home value in Ladue (63124) to show an artificially high number. The County Assessor provides accurate data for home values in our entire school district but the NO group believes that just the 63124 zip code is a more accurate representation. I think it is not realistic to think that private school families only move to 63124. The Ladue School District is much more than one zip code. So, in order to provide fair and accurate figures to voters, stats from the entire district should be included. Also, the NO group would like voters to believe that raises are a big part of Prop 1, but they are not. Of course a large portion of the operating budget is spent on salaries and benefits. Education is a service oriented business. So, to say that the district spends most of its budget on "gold plated" salaries is extraordinarily misleading. MICDS spends more than 70% of its operating budget on salaries and benefits. Other schools have similar percentages. So, this budget crisis is not because of overpaid teachers. It is due to decreased home values, which resulted in less tax dollars going to the operating budget.
Fixed Income March 12, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Again, you change the subject. I think that is all I need to hear. I'm done.
St. Louis is a destination March 12, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Fixed Income, What you have been "told" is not true. If you have statistics or facts, please present them just as I did by citing MICDS's own website.
4MyKids March 12, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Actually, I purposefully tailored my comments to only address the issues you raised and did not raise anything new (although I certainly could have included many more examples of misleading facts). But, I understand it is difficult explain the misleading facts cited by the NO website. If you believe something that I have stated is false or misleading, I would appreciate knowing it.
CreveCoeurDad March 12, 2012 at 05:48 PM
The best data I can find indicates that about 1/3 of the school-age children who live in the district attend private schools. This is based on 2000 Census data, so it might be off a little, but I doubt the 2010 Census data would show much movement from this stat. Given the economic conditions of 2010 vs. 2000, and the vast influx of new families from the teardown/rebuild movement during the decade, I also doubt that the percentage of private school educated children went up. So to state that there are more private school educated children in the district than public just isn't even remotely true. Even in 2000, the ratio was about 2:1 public to private. Move all of them to public schools, and enrollment would increase by 50%, not double. I can provide documentation and calculations if you wish.
Bess Marshall March 14, 2012 at 10:42 PM
" If all those kids suddenly decided to attend Ladue, enrollment would double. Taxes would need to more than double, taking away the perceived value argument in terms of real estate." Note that the Ladue district did not increase suddenly in acreage, but it did increase in population in the public schools. So, apparently, some of those kids DID suddenly decide to attend Ladue - or perhaps houses of non-public school parents sold to parents of public school children - , and enrollment DID increase. And, as you say, taxes therefore need to increase - not to more than double, but some.
LAS March 15, 2012 at 07:53 AM
What is best for the kids? I ask myself that question many, many times throughout the day when I am teaching your child. I ask myself that question when I sacrifice time before school to work with a group of students. I ask myself that question when I sacrifice time with my family to attend school functions in the evening. I ask myself that question when I sacrifice my lunch break to email you a concern I have about your son. I ask myself that question when I sacrifice time with my family to stay at school until 9:00 pm during conference week. I ask myself that question when I sacrifice hours on the weekend to prepare for the week ahead so that your student is prepared for the MAP test. I ask myself that question that when I am faced with the day-to-day challenges of being the best teacher your child deserves. What is best for the kids? The sacrifices I make each day are for my students. I am making those sacrifices so that they can become doctors, judges, architects, writers, artists, policemen, teachers, nurses. I am doing my part...are you? Please vote "Yes" on Prop. 1. It is what is best for the kids.
Andrew March 16, 2012 at 02:31 AM
In today's reality the question is not "how much is spent on teachers" it is "how much is spent" I am not in favor of this tax increase. Every family and business has to do with less or go broke. The School system needs to do the same and tough it out until the economy turns. Maybe some of the administrators need to go, maybe it is time to stop offering free education to teachers kids, if our "slight increase or steady enrollment" levels are a problem. It is a little unfair to us who foot the bill to simply roll over and pay more when those tough decisions are still left unmade. Just like families or businesses that have to make tough decisions will come out stronger because they were forced to be more efficient with less so will the school. When the economy turns and tax income returns to past levels will the school system stop collecting the extra .49/$100? I don't think so. When is the School system going to educate the taxpayers on their future tax increase proposals like the $18million to rebuild Spoede, what else is coming? Would it not be more honest to be transparent about the total burden over time on taxpayers you are requesting so we can make truly informed decisions? Everyone wants a strong Ladue School District but first I expect District leaders to continue to make the tough decisions necessary to survive in this tough economy
Andrew March 16, 2012 at 02:40 AM
In the past I simply voted yes for these increases thinking they help bolster the value of our school district. Had I been told before I went into the voting booth last time you didn't have the money to run the new facility you were asking us to buy I would have voted differently. No longer will you get an automatic yes from me. I am voting NO and saying find another way to solve your funding problem until the economy turns
cck March 20, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Bravo! Although it would seem like many do not appreciate you by reading the comments on this board, know that there are plenty of us (hopefully 50%+1) who truly value what you do and understand that you are worth every penny that we spend on education (if not more)! After all, our children are our future!
Louis Leffingwell March 21, 2012 at 12:17 AM
It’s best for the kids if their parents make the sacrifice to send them to a private school. Or is that too honest of an answer for the “YES” crowd?
atf March 21, 2012 at 12:37 AM
cck - yet another total misinterpretation of what is being said. No one has said that the teachers aren't worth every penny that they make. The point is that there are cuts that and should be made in other areas of the budget. Stop mischaracterizing what those of us that are choosing to vote no are saying.
cck March 21, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Jfb's words: "Baer - knowing you are an ex-teacher explains your overt bias. And frankly, robots are teaching the kids. Reflexively liberal, unionized, robots. Like, well, certain impartial editors. Nice work on your scientific poll, though."
James Baer (Editor) March 21, 2012 at 02:19 AM
cck: Sorry, you got it wrong. I was never a teacher. I was a substitute teacher, and trust, me there's a great deal of difference. I did however get the privilege of observing teachers at their work; dedicated to the growth of their children. I'm glad I took on that duty for three years.
cck March 21, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Sorry Mr. Baer. I was trying to respond to ATF saying that I was mischaracterizing the no side by pointing out that jfb called teachers "reflexively liberal, unionized robots".
James Baer (Editor) March 21, 2012 at 11:10 AM
All the name calling and negative comments will not change the outcome one iota. How about we join forces to help Ladue to become an even better district. I find it odd that Ladue over 50+ years has been recognized as one of the finest public school districts in the nation with over 90 percent of its students going on to four year colleges, yet there are many in this community who want to savage the district and punish it financially. I suppose everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course
flyoverland March 21, 2012 at 01:26 PM
You decry "name calling," and in the same paragraph accuse those who have a fiscal disagreement with the school district of wanting to "savage the district." How is wanting fiscal responsibility that will save the district "savaging" anything? The board's own budget shows it careening off the deficit cliff again in a few years, EVEN IF PROP 1 PASSES. But, the, Baer and Company will be the first ones to stand up and blame it on those greedy rich taxpayers who won't raise the tax again. A journalist is supposed to be impartial. A journalist is not supposed to be a cheerleader. A journalist is not supposed to make himself part of the story by trying to be the facilitator ("How about we join forces to help Ladue become an even better district (sic)."). How about some objective reporting?
James Baer (Editor) March 21, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Jack K, your comments are well stated.

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