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Proposition S: Special School District Pushes For Operating Tax Levy

The district has proposed a $.19 increase on the November ballot to fund technology upgrades, teacher salaries and building improvements.

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, the district has been cutting expenses and staff--between 75 and 100 positions annually over the past three years, Cary said.

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.

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.

Mike Stevens October 25, 2012 at 09:18 PM
I absolutely support this. Special School District educates many students with severe special needs, and is very successful. A tax increase amounting to a dollar a week for most people is very reasonable for the services that are provided.
PaulRevere October 26, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Special School district tax rates in year 2002 = $.83 Special School District tax rates year 2011= $1.00 Increase of 19cents =$1.19 (That is over 49% from just 10 years ago 2002) All of our Public services PAYROLLS and benefits need to be "REDUCED". to what the workers in this county can afford. I am FOR: Increasing Technology and building improvements YES. Decreasing Salaries and wages?========= Proposition S ? I would vote NO! Unless salary increases were removed from the proposal.
Mike Stevens October 27, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Spend a week in a classroom where students are having seizures, or require significant medical attention. Spend a week in a classroom where students have Autism and require intensive interventions. Spend a week in a classroom where students are intellectually disabled and require significant services to make progress. Spend a week in a classroom where students have tantrums, hit and bite students and teachers, throw objects, and require therapy. And now realize that all of those students are in the same classroom, and maybe you'll understand why it's important to have salaries that will attract and retain educators for these positions. Remember, most of the teachers for Special School District teach the students that other teachers don't have to. Before you focus just on numbers, spend some time in these classrooms, and I believe you will change your mind.
Christine Stewart Mehigh October 27, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Actually Mike, many educators do have to teach those students within their own classrooms, alongside of a special educator. They are just as responsible for those students as the special educator, and just as responsible for providing all of the required elements of the IEP. Half of some of my classes are my wonderful special education students. And thank you for making the argument that ALL teachers should have the type of salary that will attract and retain high performing educators. Hopefully, the board of education of the Mehlville district will do something about that as we are currently second lowest in the county.
Grant Bissell October 29, 2012 at 03:54 PM
PaulRevere, Would you be interested in sharing your thoughts with NewChannel 5? We'd like to interview someone in opposition to Prop S. Feel free to call 314-444-5125 and ask for reporter Grant Bissell. Thanks.

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