Tomorrow, Kirkwood School District voters will decide if the district will increase its operating tax levy by 78 cents per $100 dollars of assessed valuation. This is a substantial increase—the neighboring Melville School District is proposing only a 49-cent increase. The tax levy pays for the operating costs of the district, including salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators. If Prop A passes, the owner of a $250,000 dollar house will pay $370 dollars more per year.
Earlier, I wrote about Mehlville School District’s proposed property tax increase. Voters in both Melville and Kirkwood must decide whether they think additional funds will improve the quality of the districts. To make this decision, they should consider how the school districts are currently spending tax dollars.
A group called Tax Fairly opposes the tax hike. Information about their reasons for opposing the tax increase may be found here.
Tax Fairly points out that Kirkwood has the highest-paid superintendent in the state and the second highest-paid teachers in the state (only the Clayton School District pays more). Kirkwood School Board President E. J. Miller told the Post-Dispatch, “We want the best of the best. We think that to hire them and retain them, we want to pay them well.”
Proponents of Prop A believe the property tax increase is necessary due to increasing enrollment. A district-hired demographer estimated an enrollment increase of between 10 and 11 percent by 2019. To keep up with the rate of enrollment, the district would have to hire new teachers to keep class sizes down.
Tax Fairly disagrees with the district’s enrollment estimates. The group questions the methods used to determine 2019 enrollment. They point out that at least some of the rising enrollment the district has experienced has been due to transfer students from the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts. They also call attention to the fact that Kirkwood allows children of teachers in the district to attend the school tuition-free.
I want to add one wrinkle to this debate. The chart above provides teacher–student ratios for Kirkwood and the surrounding school districts (using Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Data). Kirkwood classrooms average 14 students per teacher, which is lower than most other school districts in the area. Perhaps it’s not Kirkwood’s teacher salaries that are driving costs, but the number of teachers they need.
Research shows that teacher quality is more important than class size, that is, class sizes could increase slightly and still maintain the same level of quality. In fact, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the desirable standard for student enrollment in classrooms is between 17 and 25 students, depending on the grade level, well above Kirkwood’s average. Is the district operating as efficiently as it could? Arguably not.
Although many agree the district is performing well, a major concern for taxpayers is how the district will spend $10.4 million in additional revenue annually. The 2015–2016 operating revenue budget is $62 million. Is all of that new money necessary?