Ladue Schools Puts Operating Tax Increase On April 2012 Ballot

District struggles to find ways to make up for significant revenue decline.


The Board of Education of the Ladue School District voted unanimously on November 28, 2012 to put a $.49 operating tax levy increase request on the April 3, 2012 ballot.  The request, to be called Proposition 1, is aimed at offsetting at least some of the 9 percent decline in revenue the district has experienced over the last several years due primarily to reductions in property assessments.

The district has already cut approximately $7 million dollars in expenditures – equivalent to approximately 14 percent of its current annual expenditures – over the last four years. Without an operating tax increase, the district will need to cut approximately $2.5 million more to balance the district’s budget for the 2012-13 school year – bringing expenditure cuts to a total equivalent of 19 percent of the district’s current expenditures.

 Increasing costs beyond the district’s control offset many of these reductions each year.  For instance, increases in expenditures for utilities, insurance, purchased services, supplies, state mandated retirement contributions and contracted building maintenance are either partially or totally beyond the district’s control.   

Without further expenditure reductions, or an operating tax increase to help replace lost revenue, the district is projected to have a negative unrestricted fund balance of over $5.23 million by the 2015-16 school year.  The Ladue School District, traditionally one of the most high-achieving and financially stable public schools in the area, will likely lose ground on several fronts without additional funding. 

In 2011, the district’s per pupil expenditure, as reported to the State of Missouri, was $13,000: $5,065 less per student than Clayton School District; and also lower than Brentwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights and Pattonville School Districts.  In fact, the district’s per pupil expenditure was closer to those of University City, Kirkwood and Normandy School District’s than any of the four districts spending more per pupil than Ladue Schools.

Similarly, for many years the district was able to consistently maintain one of the top three positions in teacher salaries in the area, allowing the district to successfully recruit top educators. However, in 2010-11 Ladue Schools trailed behind Clayton, Kirkwood and Pattonville School Districts, and anticipates falling even lower in the ranking without any additional revenue coming in to the district. 

Additionally, without an increase in revenue, the district is concerned about losing its AAA Standard & Poor’s rating which is taken into consideration when financial institutions set interest rates for bond debt.  “We could go from being one of 68 school districts in the country with a AAA rating to having a negative fund balance over the next four years,” states Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Dr. Jason Buckner.  “Unfortunately, what was once hard to imagine is starting to seem possible.”

The district is currently developing two budget scenarios to be presented to the Board of Education in January.  One outlines the allocation of expenditures if Proposition 1 passes and is not anticipated to include significant additional cuts.  The other outlines expenditures if Proposition 1 does not pass and is anticipated to reflect approximately $2.5 million in additional reductions to be made to balance the 2012-13 budget.

“The last time we announced budget reductions to the community, we had over two hundred people at our Board meeting and parents were demanding we put the tax increase question to a vote immediately,” explains Superintendent Dr. Marsha Chappelow.  “We have managed our money well.  In fact, our expenditures have increased less over the past six years than nearly all districts in the county.  We wouldn’t be asking our community for more help in these tough economic times if it wasn’t necessary to maintain the district’s current status.”

Information was provided by the communications department of the Ladue School District.

Andrew March 16, 2012 at 03:39 AM
A fundemental problem here is the district is proposing a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We have a down economy and deflated housing values resulting in lower tax income. When the economy and house values recover will the added .49/$100 tax increase go away? I don't think so. When the economy recovers and the district is getting 17% MORE income will they balance the books then park the remainder in an endowment that could cover losses in a downturn? I don't think so. Had that thinking been in place we would have had one to cover the current temporary problem - We all want a strong Ladue School District, I think our first step is stronger leadership before more money
cck March 16, 2012 at 03:43 AM
You are protected by the Hancock Amendment! If property values increase more than the cost of living, the tax levy will then be automatically lowered. The only exception is new construction.
CareaboutLadue March 16, 2012 at 05:22 AM
Have any of the vote no proponents spoken to the Board or the Adminstration to get the facts behind the budget? To understand why expenses where a given number in a particular year that you have a question about? If you feel the district is wasting money and hasn't been prudent then what should they have spent the money on or what exactly was it spent on that was wasteful? The staff is not overpaid when compared to other districts nor are the teachers. Data is available to prove that yet you continue to claim everyone is over paid. I hear an awful lot of noise but no real facts behind it. What exactly did the District spend money on that you deem to be so wasteful?
CareaboutLadue March 16, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Westminster doesn't count since that was a bond issue and not part of the operating revenue. The district did have the funds to run Westminster when it was purchased however the housing market continued to fall in Ladue. They probably should have asked for a tax increase at the same time as the bond levy. If the levy fails housing will mostly like drop further and the schools will be in even more trouble and need more money. It becomes a vicious cycle and niether the homeowner or the schools win. I understand not wanting to pay more taxes when it doesn't seem like it benefits the community or you just can't afford to pay them anymore. Many people will continue to move to Ladue for the schools if they continue to be excellent. The taxes are less than a year of private school education for the majority of homeowners. With excellent public schools the area can demand a premium price for their homes. The Hancock Amendment protects the homeowner if housing prices go back up. I don't understand punishing the district when you can afford to pay the taxes and when it will hurt the whole community and district in the long run.
Andrew March 16, 2012 at 12:42 PM
CareaboutLadue makes a lot of assumptions. Sorry but "doesn't count" - doesn't count! To suggest any additional burden on taxpayers "doesn't count" is an affront to those of us asked to carry the financial burden. It is like my daughter asking for more money for college in this down economy and saying "well the added money you have to pay because tuition went up doesn't count" The reality is both families, businesses and school have to buck it up in this down economy. Saying "We had money before the economy turned down" indicates school leadership lacked the discipline to understand economies go up and down - good fiscal management plans for rainy days with reserves, endowments and other tools then when the economy turns makes tough decisions to quickly to respond to lowered revenue - I am not "punishing" the school district any more than I am "punishing" my daughter by saying "spend less" cutting expenses across the board at my home and business to survive and be able to continue to provide jobs for those employees left or "punishing" myself for taking a deep pay cut. I am respectful of all sides on this - we are neighbors! And I have to respectfully disagree this time - in the past these tax increases have gotten an automatic YES vote from our family but this proposal has taught us we have to now stop and ask tough questions, the audacity to ask for a tax increase now has changed my perspective on these going forward
Andrew March 16, 2012 at 02:52 PM
In response to Careaboutladue's comment on what do we think is wasteful: It is the wrong question. The issue is revenues are way down, all of us are experiencing that. None of us have the option to ask taxpayers to bail us out. It is not "are the teachers making too much" or "did someone waste money". The issue is revenues are way down and the School District is paid to manage the problem. Hearing "These are expenses that are out of our control" does not work for my family if the mortgage is not being paid, it doesnt work with my suppliers at my business. The buck stops with me. I have to deal with the reality of the situation. Business as usual will bankrupt me and my business. I have to continue to make tough decisions to get through it. I don't want to run the school system, I am paying others to do that. If they ask my for my experience on how I cope with it I would ask ahve all administrators taken a temporary pay cut? Are all non-esential staff gone (do we still pay $95k/yr for internal PR? - can an outside firm do that cheaper?) I don't pretend to know the internal workings of the District but tough decisions like these need to be made during this TEMPORARY economic downturn. I would possibly listen to a request for a TEMPORARY (2 yr?) increase but I am absolutely against asking for a permanent increase that results in 17% MORE money once the economy turns around
CareaboutLadue March 16, 2012 at 05:03 PM
In response to Andrew. I respect your your right to feel the way you do and if I wasn't a parent in the district with knowledge of the situation I may feel exactly the same way. The only concern I have is that I know the district has done everything in its power to cut costs and has maintained a surplus. This is how it has operated for 29 years without an increase in the operating levy. The last tax increases were ffor bonds to add air conditioning in the Elementary Schools, increase the size of the middle school, upgrades to the high school and lastly the purchase of westminster. Over 700 students have been added since 2000. The buildings physically did not have space and we cant teach in tents outside. Teachers and staff is needed for that kind of growth. That costs money. 29 years is a long time for an operating tax levy and the school is much larger than even few years ago. It's a tough situation with no easy answers but unlike your daughters fun money for college these are our child's education at stake .
JFB March 16, 2012 at 05:21 PM
29 years without an increase in the operating levy does not mean 29 years without an increase in operating funds. The district increased spending 21.5% between 2007 and 2010. That revenue came from a bubble in home values. Now the bubble has burst, the windfall has been spent, and the district has to make cuts. These cuts will restore spending to levels above where they were in 2007. Not the end of the world. Can homeowners afford the increase? Probably. Can the district cut expenses? Probably. It seems like the crux of the issue is who should bear the brunt of the sacrifice. We aren't looking at a 5% increase, which would have likely been a slam dunk for the district. We are looking at a huge increase, with another waiting in the wings. Some taxpayers, most likely (but not all) with kids in the schools, are willing to take the 17% bullet. Some aren't. Neither side is stupid. Both think they have a right to the money, one because they own it, and the other because they need it. THAT is an interesting conflict, and I believe is the reason behind the heat on this thread. This vote is partly about funding schools and partly about the fundamental right to keep or spend your own money. The repeated argument of "you can afford it, so shut up and pay up" just doesn't cut it this time.
CareaboutLadue March 16, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Not the end of the world? I do think it wiil be the end of our excellent schools abilityto be excellent. They wiil cut foreign language, music, or art, in addition to ap classes, 17 teaching positions and 5 staff and administrative. The schools will not be able to compete any longer at the same level. It will really boil down to what kind of school district the community wants to have. The Hancock amendment offers protection so taxes will not go through the roof if we recover. I am not as confident as you the downturn is just temporary.
Fixed Income March 16, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Careabout, using your logic regarding tax increases, "That it has been 29 years without an increase..." means that some day, another increase will be the only way for future parents to get the accoutrements they want, then another group will say "its been XX years since the last one..." Eventually, your logic says the rate must always be raised to get what somebody wants. Eventually, the only way to satisfy the insatiable appetite of parents' desires for what's best for their kids means the rate must someday reach 100% of assessed valuation. Mathematically, that is the only end. Then what happens, surcharges? Every business has a reserve fund. We spent ours on non-essential stuff. Now, we're broke. We cannot reward this behavior by giving this board a passing grade. When parents understand the board is the problem and replace them, not with more teachers, but with people who understand finance and who represent the entire community, then we can talk.
atf March 16, 2012 at 07:05 PM
CareaboutLadue, Have you actually sat down and reviewed the district's budget? There is PLENTY that can and SHOULD be cut prior to teachers losing their jobs. How about we start with freezing pay? The superintendent/assts have gotten pay increases the past two school years. Pay for 2009-2010 was $563,992 pay for 2010-2011 was $671,795 and yet another increase in 2011-2012 coming in at $699,094 (increase over the past 2 years of $135,102). How many teachers' jobs would have been saved if the board/superintendent did the right thing and froze pay? This has been mentioned several times before, but eliminating or making bus service optional for those inside the 3.5 mile radius of the schools would reduce expenses greatly. Student transport came in at $950,000 for 2011-2012 and "non-allowable transport" came in at $198,474. This would not have to be permanent. When the economy recovers and tax revenues increase, this could be added back. Then, you start to look at things like travel expenses. The superintendent is using $12,000 worth of travel expenses for this school year. Last year, it was $4,727. A $7,000 increase from last year???? While jobs are being eliminated? Really? Admin staff travel exp. $3,303; Interschool travel exp. $24,015; Teachers travel exp. $78,627 (last year was $34,775- so this has more than doubled in a year's time); "Other travel" $58,106. Totaled up the district's employee "travel expenses" are $176,051.
atf March 16, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Could these individuals forgo being reimbursed for travel expenses in order to save a few jobs? How about eliminating $148,279 worth of conferences/workshops (which was an increase from $119,971 last year) ? Temporarily eliminating this kind of expense should be no-brainer. Again, this would not need to be a permanent measure. Here are some other items that should be subject to temporarily suspending $16,000 for commencement; $383,230 on textbooks. Field trips/fees $50,273 (almost double the amount that was spent last year). Architectural services $24,000. Professional services $169,729 (coming in $40,000 higher than in the prelim budget). Once all of these things have been done, then come talk to me about a tax increase. And these are just the obvious problems. i would love to see a further breakdown of these expenses. If I were an employee of the Ladue School District, I would be furious that these measures have not been taken, and instead jobs are being eliminated. Here is a link to the budget that I am referencing in case anyone doubts the numbers. Take a look for yourself. http://docs2.ladue.k12.mo.us/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-3871/2011-12%20Revised%20Budget.pdf
Louis Leffingwell March 16, 2012 at 08:30 PM
If Prop 1 was about really about improving education it would be about school choice. Unfortunately somewhere along we got confused over government funding education and government delivering education, they are not the same. Wouldn't every parent and child be better off if these silly school districts were eliminated and vouchers were issued enabling the parents send their children to schools of their choosing? Why we the people afraid of free choice? The current public education system in the US is doomed to mediocrity. The only incentive the administrators have at LSD or any school district is to spend their budgets so they can demand more and cloak these demands in virtuous sounding rhetoric. Parents that are unwilling or not capable of sending their children private schools are hostages to the corrupt public school system. While that might be good for teachers and the administrators - how is that good for students? The reality is that there is nothing more inefficient than a governmental district spending money. The real ballot initiative should be the elimination of the Ladue Schools all together and turn tax money directly over to the parents in the form of a voucher. Of course if we had the gumption to do that the result would be soaring property values. Wouldn’t every parent then want to live in the LSD? Of course the LSD teachers and their bosses want no part of a voucher system. That would force them to be accountable!
St. Louis is a destination March 16, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Ladue has the highest ACT scores in the state. Teachers are on a merit pay system and have been for 60 years. Ladue is what is right with educations. LL, You call people NAZIS. That is not right in any circumstance unless there is genocide. This is a direct quote from another thread, "Why is the yes side behaving like Nazi's?" You should be ashamed.
Andrew March 16, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Again the problem and it's solutions are not being framed right 1. LSD needs to "empty the spending basket" and stop anything temporarily that does not directly deliver teaching . Yes they have made cuts. So have we in our family and business we all have to make MORE 2. Solve a temporary problem with a temporary solution. After you demonstrate with accountability and transprancy you have done #1 then we would consider a TEMPORARY tax increase that STOPS WHEN WE HAVE RECOVERED. This is the only way you can convince us you understand the problem and have the leadership capacity to execute well
no vote March 17, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Here's the reasons I am voting NO on Prop 1. 1) During the middle of a terrible recession, LSD decides to go out and purchase Westminster with no plans or funds to operate it. Then it turns around and builds a new building while the rest of the campus sits empty. And all for a new preschool, which was not necessary to begin with, there are many good preschools in the area. It seems like they could have lived with the old preschool for a while. 2) What is the district going to do with Westminster? It's going to cost a fortune to improve and operate the property, this means massive tax hikes are looming. 3) The enrollment myth - enrollment has gone up, but is now cycling back the other way. I saw firsthand many young families move into the district back in 2006-2008, fueled by available home financing and a strong job market. Now that the economy stinks and the housing market crashed, people are staying put as their kids get older. I have heard that lower grade enrollments in the district are trending down, so we should look at the statistics class by class. 4) This massive tax hike is truly a burden as we are coming out of a recession. We have to remember that this is real money out of real people's pockets. 5) Even though tax collections are down a bit, property values are still way above where they were a few years ago. My taxes are almost double what they were 5 years ago, so enough is enough.
Mary Thomas March 17, 2012 at 03:33 PM
And when the district was given a AAA rating - what was the rating agency thinking? We knew when the bond passed Ladue did not have operating funds for the new property. They were already cutting the budget. Then this fall they had to figure out how to utilize the property. Where was the business plan before they purchased the property???? You do not buy something without having a usage plan, funding, business plan??? No business in their right mind would do this. But the Ladue school board did it. I am not a business person, but I know these facts. Get real. That is why I am voting no.
CareaboutLadue March 17, 2012 at 06:26 PM
This is my last comment on this board since those voting no I believe have the right. I for one have the right to vote yes. If this levy fails tax rates will most likely go down but for all the wrong reasons. In my opinion and those of other families in the district that if prop 1 one fails the massive cuts this year and next will destroy the excellent schools unless there is a significant housing recovery. Familes will no longer want to move to Ladue to pay taxes for a mediocre and distressed school. Families in the district will move their kids out of Ladue to better performing districts or private schools. Families may even choose to move out of the district altogether. I for one can tell you I don't honestly don't know if I will keep my kids at Ladue if this levy fails. You can't confuse what is going on in our federal goverent to what is going on in our district. You will have your lower taxes and mediocre district and falling home values because the draw of a top school district in the country will not continue. Ladue schools are a model for other districts of what is right with public schools. They didn't receive that reputation by being irresponsible and poorly run.
atf March 17, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I don't believe anyone who is choosing to vote "no" is "confusing what is going on in our federal government to what is going on in our district". I can assure you, most Ladue school district taxpayers are not living in a bubble that has been somehow immune to the state of our country's economy. We have all been affected. Again, look to the School Board for their out of control spending and poor decision making if you are looking to place blame. Review the budget. http://docs2.ladue.k12.mo.us/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-3871/2011-12%20Revised%20Budget.pdf
Louis Leffingwell March 18, 2012 at 01:37 AM
What would you call attempts at stifling expressions of free speech by reverting to sign stealing? How exactly would you classify that type of despicable behavior? Didn’t storm troopers tear down signs and prohibit people from expressing their opinions? I simply questioned why the “yes” had to revert to this type of extreme behavior – there haven’t any reports of Yes signs being stolen. Are you so afraid of free expression that you want to shut it down if you do not agree with it? Believe it or not the first amendment protects offensive speech. Do we have the right to compare anti-freedom behavior like sign stealing to the Nazis? As offensive as you might find this question – the answer is yes we do! And I will defend your right to express yourself in any way you want. Unfortunately we see many times that dilusional left wingers like you are afraid of freedom. People like you think that freedom is only acceptable if the expressions and actions of others are aligned with their point of view. Any time that we see our civil liberties and freedom under attack should we sit back and politely ignore it or should stand up and shout? Maybe we need risk insulting people for the sake of clarity. I apologize for nothing and am personally embarrassed that we live in a community where people steal political signs because they do agree with that position or candidate.
Louis Leffingwell March 18, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Mr. Destination - forgot to remind you that LHS has the lowest ACT scores in the LSD district. LHS finished last behind Burroughs, MICDS, St. Joseph's Academy, Chaminade and Villa. Given a choice where would you send your child? Would the children of Ladue be better off if their parents had a voucher that could be used at the school of their choosing? Public education is trapped in mediocrity. The best way to improve public education is to get government out of the education business and give the tax money directly to the parents in the form of a voucher. Besides the teacher’s union who would object to educational choice? Why?
St. Louis is a destination March 18, 2012 at 04:43 PM
LL, If you do not know what is wrong about comparing people to Nazis, there is no helping you. The difference between Ladue and all of the private schools you mentioned, is that Ladue does not have an entrance exam, all of the others do. Ladue takes all comers including those with learning issues. Ladue has had merit pay for 60 years. The teachers are accountable. With all of the criticisms concerning the school district and Prop 1, I have yet to see someone criticize the job the district does in educating students. I would like to see you expand upon this. While you are doing that, you can continue on your NAZI rant. Your talk of vouchers explains your real motivations.
cck March 18, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Louis - there have been both reports of stolen Yes signs as well as vandalism in Yes supporters yards. Someone placed a toilet with a Yes sign in a Yes supporters yard. Outrageous but that doesn't make them a Nazi!
SS March 19, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Teachers in Ladue DO NOT have merit pay. It was eliminated 4 years ago. Since then, teachers have received raises that don't even amount to cost of living, if anything at all. Also, many of the teachers who retired were not the best - many of them needed to be out, badly. The young teachers have the right to have babies, and while disruptive, long term subs are chosen very carefully. These teachers are much preferably to some of them who are counting down til retirement.
cck March 19, 2012 at 05:00 AM
MJF - I am not interested in participating in this board any longer - not because I don't have arguments for you but because we (the yes supporters) have been called communists, freeloaders, pensioners, and finally Nazis. I see no point in discussion here any longer.
St. Louis is a destination March 19, 2012 at 01:28 PM
SS, I emailed a teacher last night. Ladue still has merit pay. There was a transition period when the district switched from one system to another, but evaluation still dictates pay. You are correct that pay raises have not kept up with the cost of living.
Fixed Income March 19, 2012 at 01:44 PM
The former merit pay system was a joke. It was nothing but an automatic raise. A community finance committee in 2004 audited the plan over ten years. In over about 3500 opportunities to rate teachers less than ten opportunities were not at the absolute highest ranking. It was just an automatic annual raise and is the reason our payroll system jumped so high over that time. We are now paying the price for huge annual raises back then that have compounded over time.
St. Louis is a destination March 19, 2012 at 02:18 PM
FI, Please provide a link to this audit of which you write. Thanks.
Fixed Income March 19, 2012 at 02:23 PM
There is no link. Go back and review the minutes and recommendations of the finance committee that was convened after Prop L was defeated. It was reported at the same meeting when the committee suggested a one year pay freeze and the teachers' representative told them if they did the teachers would show up at quarter to eight and leave at three fifteen. I'm sure you were at the meeting. The man who did the audit was a CPA and the former CEO of a major company as well as a former auditor for E&Y. The period was from 1994 to 2004. It was the report that led to the changes in program.
SS April 02, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Hi Tom, Please stop robo-calling my house to try to turn me against this much-needed tax levy. Our property taxes have all gone down in recent years, leaving the school district without the resources necessary to teach our children. This is simple economics. The tactics of "TakeBackLadue" show Ladue residents in a terrible light; I hate to think of my neighbors as cheap, dishonest, and manipulative. If you have a solution for how to teach more students with less money, I'd like to hear it. If you don't have any ideas, at least please stop calling my home with this vicious nonsense.


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