For the first time in six years, the Special School District of St. Louis County, which provides staffing for 22 school districts in the area in addition to the district's own schools, will ask voters to approve a tax levy increase that on a $100,000 house would equate to roughly $36 annually.
The increase, which at $0.19 would bring the overall tax levy to $1.19 per $100 assessed valuation, comes at a time when district superintendent John Cary said, for the first time in his more than 30 years in education, all sources of district revenue have gone down during the economic slowdown.
As a result, Cary said the district has been cutting expenses and staff--between 75 and 100 positions annually over the past three years.
If approved, funds would go toward technology programs, competitive teacher salaries and $85 million in needed building renovations at seven district buildings located in Ladue, Town and Country, Florissant, Sunset Hills and Crestwood. While the vast majority of the district's students are educated in their home school district, Cary said SSD faciliites have largely gone without significant upgrades for between 10-20 years. The largest single upgrade would come at Northview High School in Florissant, which needs $24.5 million to build a new school.
In Ladue, Litzsinger School will undergo four major improvements at a cost of $7 million. The improvements will replace HVAC systems, construct a new gym, add covered bus loading and unloading zones and convert two large areas into a small restroom and storage room.
Autism-related care seem to be what's driving the biggest need in the district. In 2000 district figures said there were 472 children with autism in district care. That number is now projected to be above 2700 in 2013.
"We feel like we’re seeing more success but at the same time it’s a very expensive population," Cary said, noting that autism cases aren't solely rising because of better ways to identify children who need care.
If we’ve learned anything in the disability community we've learned that there's a lot of human capital there going to waste and I think that’s why this is so important to not only this community but to taxpayes at large because we’re going to pay one way or another," Cary said.
Cary said the district had not yet identified contingencies for what might happen if the ballot question does not pass, noting that more community input would be needed. He said 80 percent of the district's budget is made up of staff, and that on the teacher side of things, the district needs to stay competitive on salaries because the pool of teachers certified to teach special education is smaller than the general population, and those teachers are often also certified to teach other subject areas, making it harder to keep them.
The district's website suggests that on top of more staff cuts, if the measure fails, staff would likely not be offered a salary increase starting next year.