If it ain’t about the money

Katie Woodruff, news editor

Three administrators eliminated as well as 25 teachers and 23 support staff members. Over $5 million in combined budget reductions. The Kirkwood School District Board of Education proposed Proposition A, a resolution asking voters to approve a 78-cent tax increase per $100 of assessed value Nov. 3, 2015. Sixty percent of voters voted it down, causing KSD to step back and look over its spending to try to maintain a fund balance of 20 percent.

“I think we all felt we had done the leg work, we had a great team working on the issue, that [Keep Kirkwood Great] was well organized and we had done everything we needed to do,” Dr. Tom Williams, superintendent, said. “We thought it was going to be close, but we thought it was going to pass. We were all a little overly optimistic about it.”

Throughout the entire campaign, there were two main groups trying to help sway the vote, “Keep Kirkwood Great” and “Tax Fairly”. According to Williams and Ginger Cayce, KSD communications director, KSD and Keep Kirkwood Great tried to run a positive campaign that provided information to the public on why KSD needed the tax increase. Both Cayce and Williams said Tax Fairly effectively used fear tactics to convince the public to vote no.

“We thought that the vote would be close because there was an organized ‘No’ group that was pretty active,” Williams said. “I think anytime you ask people to increase their taxes it is a controversial issue and you are going to have a lot of people who just do not like taxes.”

As the district spends 87 percent of its budget on salaries, the majority of the other 13 percent goes toward funding each student KSD serves because the state underfunds the district for the cost of education per student, according to Williams and Cayce. Williams said it costs $12,000 on average to provide an education for a KSD student.

“We needed these funds to maintain what we had,” Cayce said. “What we didn’t say is, if this doesn’t pass then we will have to cut this many positions out of certify and support. The reason why we didn’t do that is because the experts and the field of winning of these types of elections, and we consulted three different experts, and it was based on what the surveys told us too. Don’t threaten. Don’t threaten. Don’t threaten.”

As the vote was shot down by the majority, the school board had to come up with budget reductions quickly. With the contingency plan not rolling out until the Dec. 14 board meeting, the waiting period caused tension amongst the teachers and students because they did not know what would happen to their jobs and high school careers. At a school board meeting Dec. 14 regarding approving the budget reductions of over $5 million, teachers and coaches such as Wayne Baldwin, cross country and track and field coach, talked to the board and attendees about fighting for the teachers who help the district thrive.

“Wayne was very supportive. It came across like he was chewing out the board, but he was really talking to the audience about how we should support the district and support each other,” Williams said. “I thought it was a good turnout. I thought we had a lot of supportive people. A lot of staff members were there and it was an important night. I would have been disappointed if there were only five people there.”

The Board of Education approved almost $900,000 in reductions this year and over $4 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. This year alone, the board approved freezing and reducing school department budgets by 20 percent as well as reducing support staff positions by three percent. For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, there will be a salary freeze. In addition, three administrative positions, 16 support staff positions and 25 teaching positions will also be eliminated. According to WIlliams, the district extended the retirement deadline for incentives to Feb. 12 to try to avoid having to cut more staff members. Usually, the district would wait until March to renew contacts, but according to Williams, the high school requested to know which staff members would be impacted. Justin Flack, physics teacher, was one of five teachers at KHS who was informed that they will most likely not have their contract renewed due to the failure of Proposition A.

“I am not mad at anyone in particular,” Flack said. “The kids were [saying] ‘Oh, we are going to talk to Dr. Havener,’ but it’s not Dr. Havener’s fault. He had to make a hard decision, but he didn’t want to make a hard decision. I still love all the people here. I hope to stay in contact with all my students over the years.”

As of now, the school board continues to analyze the feedback from the community about the failed proposition, but Williams said KSD will have to come back with another proposal in the near future. Though the board has not started to work on a new resolution, they are putting out more surveys to understand how the community felt about the proposal and its rejection.
“We are trying to get a feel for what the community was saying,” Williams said. “I think it was just a shock because we put out such a good product. We have a good reputation and this is where people want to come and live, and so what really was the message they were sending us? I think it was I want you to be as good as we are, but I don’t want you to spend that much money. I don’t know if we can really do that.”