Proposition S: A Little More Nuanced
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial in support of Proposition S, the proposed tax increase for the Special School District of Saint Louis County (SSD). Saint Louis County residents are currently taxed at$1 per $100 of assessed valuation, or 1 percent of assessed value. Proposition S would increase that by 19 cents to $1.19 per $100. (For a $200,000 house, that would be a tax increase of $72.) The Post-Dispatch offers valid reasons for supporting the initiative, but I think there is a little more nuance that voters should consider.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reports the SSD spends more than $161,000 per-pupil, but SSD reports their per-pupil expenditure to be just above $14,000. The figure from DESE is calculated using the district’s average daily attendance. This is problematic for the SSD because the district “serves more than 21,000 students for whom it does not take attendance.”
Most of those students are counted in the average daily attendance figures of their local school district, which means local taxpayers give money to their local school district and to the Special School District. To my knowledge, this is the only system like this in the state. One would think that because the special needs students are primarily served via the SSD that the local property tax could be lower. After all, most school districts throughout the state educate their special needs students with local, state, and federal dollars without an extra SSD.
As it turns out, the average tax rate for operating funds in Saint Louis County school districts is 4.0 percent, ranging from 2.75 percent in Ladue to 5.3411 percent in Hazelwood (2011 data source). The state average is 3.3 percent. When the additional 1 percent for the SSD is placed on top of the local taxes, Saint Louis County school districts have an average tax rate that is approximately 50 percent higher than the state average. Add an additional .19 percent on this and the tax rate will be more than 55 percent higher.
I am all for supporting services for special needs students, but there may be other ways we can do this. For starters, maybe some of that money could be used to provide opportunity scholarships for special needs students to attend the private school of their choice.