In April 2000, the Warren County School District asked its voters for a 54-cent property tax levy increase. More than 1,900 people showed up to vote, and the majority said no. Later that year, in November, the school district asked again. This time, about 5,800 people showed up and, once again, the vote was no.
Last week, Cynthia asked whether November elections would get more people to vote on school issues. We looked at Missouri school district tax levy elections from 2000 through 2003, and, not surprisingly, the answer is yes.
It’s a strong yes. Like Warren County, four out of the five remaining school districts that held both an April and November tax levy election during that period, saw nearly twice as many voters show up in November, if not more. If you want more voters, November is the month to put a tax increase on the ballot.
But if you want a school district’s proposed tax increase to pass, you have a better shot in April. And, whatever the reason, that’s the month most school districts put financial proposals on the ballot.
For tax levy proposals specifically: From 2000–2003, there were 85 in April, nearly four times as many as those in November. The success rate for those in April was about 60 percent. For the November tax issues, it dropped to about 45 percent. More voters doesn’t mean more money.
This past April, when reporting on the Columbia School District, I stood outside of polling places during the school and municipal election and asked people how they voted. Those who voted for the district’s tax levy increase often mentioned their ties to the district.
It’s my suspicion that a greater number of April voters are connected to school districts than are the ones who show up in November. And school employees are just not as likely to vote against a levy that would generate more money for their district. Most of a school’s annual income goes toward paying employees — often as high as 80 percent.
Maybe November voters dilute that influence. Maybe November is just a cold month, with Christmas looming, and people tighten their purse strings. I seriously doubt school board members plot when to hold financial elections. But if a levy fails in November and it shows up again on an April ballot, it’s a better bet.