Kirkwood High School student newspaper

Mikki Philippe

Call Ed: Less money, more problems

KSD proposed Prop A, an operating tax levy of 78 cents per $100 of assessed property value spring of 2015. Subsequently, this proposition was voted down by the community, resulting in a budget crisis for KSD. This issue, 99 percent of TKC staff (80:1) voted they believe Prop A and budget reductions could have been handled more appropriately.

February 5, 2016

When something with the slogan “Keep Kirkwood Great” is voted down by the community, does it make that community decidedly less great? Well, no, but it increases class sizes, leaves KHS with a $4 million deficit ($1 million to still cut) and leaves 25 teachers, 23 support staff members and three administrators throughout KSD knowing that if “things don’t change” their contracts will not be renewed. When you have teachers losing their jobs and a school blindsided by the severity of the repercussions of Prop A not passing, someone messed up.

In the spring of 2015, KSD proposed Prop A, an operating tax levy of 78 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The Keep Kirkwood Great website said despite resident student enrollment increasing by more than 650 students in the last five years alone, the operating tax had not been increased for 10 years. To maintain the level of excellence Kirkwood is known for, an increase was in order. Unfortunately, Kirkwood had a confused public, and Tax Fairly, a group against Prop A, had an incredibly strong argument detailing high pay of teachers, revenue growth and enrollment realism.

What the public only really understood from the campaign, however, was (kind of ) why we needed the tax increase. There was an ambiguity to what would happen if it didn’t pass, as well as where all the money would go. If the community visited the Keep Kirkwood Great website they could read all about how KSD needed the money to continue to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers and continue to excel in student programs and services, but a mention of an increase in class sizes isn’t found unless you click around looking for it. Furthermore, the language used lacked urgency: if KSD wanted the community to treat the proposition with seriousness they should have advertised like the crisis it was.

“It was very clear that we knew we were at a tipping point in terms of what we had to do,” Dr. Tom Williams, superintendent, said. “We didn’t want to go to the negative part of it [in terms of scare tactics]; to be optimistic. I think we all believed Kirkwood is not going to not pass this.”

However, it is our belief that something isn’t a scare tactic if it’s the truth. By definition, a scare tactic is a strategy intended to manipulate public opinion based on fear or alarm. Often, it’s a strategy put into the same category as false information. Divulging the whole story, in retrospect, may have worked on the district’s side as well as clearing up some of the confusion surrounding the situation.

Moreover, it would have prepared teachers for the possibility that their job may need to be cut in order to help make ends meet. Until January, most staff members felt pretty good about the whole thing according to Justin Flack, physics teacher.

I think we all believed Kirkwood is not going to not pass [prop a]”

— Tom Williams, superintendent

Flack said from the beginning KSD made it sound like the cuts were never going to be serious enough that teachers’ contracts would not be renewed. This belief continued even after the board meeting that took place after Prop A was voted down Dec. 14. Flack said he left the meeting feeling confident because Williams said they were going to try to accomplish the reductions mainly through attrition, people leaving on their own and retiring. Wednesday of finals week, Flack was told that “if things don’t change,” his contract would not be renewed.

For residents within KSD without a student or connection to the district, there was virtually no incentive to vote yes, especially for those on fixed incomes who simply wouldn’t be able to afford it.

“[Tax Fairly] was mainly arguing about our operating budget, and they were combining all of our maintenance funds and our technology fund in with the funds we used to support our classrooms, which was misleading to people,” Ginger Cayce, KSD director of communications, said. “Very successfully, they used a fear tactic.”

Dr. Michael Havener, principal, said that even with the budget cuts KHS will still be able to keep opportunity for students as well as meet individual needs. He said the effects of Prop A would not change KHS’s level of education.

Obviously, there isn’t a huge solution to fix everything. The damage is done. Next year class sizes will be more crammed, bus transportation might be for students located 2.5 miles away from the school instead of 2 miles, support staff will be smaller and we’ll be missing some much loved faces.

Williams said right now they are gathering information and planning to run another proposition in the future. To help with the budget, TKC staff offers KSD could lower salaries, increase the cost of attendance to athletic events, rent fields to other teams for use, switch from Groupwise (the secure server used by staff to send emails) to Gmail and get rid of eBackpack, which costs the district $5 per student.

Although we may be criticizing the district’s handling of the situation, we understand at the end of the day we are all on the side of what is best for the education of our students, and that’s what should be the main goal.

*Editors note: In the print version released Jan. 28, TKC stated in the sidebar that the money for the journalism center came from private donations, which was incorrect. In the web version we corrected this.
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  • B

    Brandon MitchenerFeb 11, 2016 at 9:42 am

    What’s up, Call! You have 81 staffers now?? Wow! That’s outstanding. All 81 of you … listen carefully to Mr. Eden — he’s like your residential yoda, both cryptic and illuminating.

    I wanted to give my two cents on this comment:

    “For residents within KSD without a student or connection to the district, there was virtually no incentive to vote yes, especially for those on fixed incomes who simply wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

    Here’s my addendum: there actually is a significant economic incentive for such people to support tax increases for their school district because there is a definite connection between school quality and housing prices. Knowing that a property tax increase that supports the school district is also an investment in your household’s single biggest asset (its home) was all I needed to vote ‘yes.’ — education quality of primary school is positively correlated w/ house prices — quality of school has positive impact on prices of houses located within that attendance zone

    Of course, there are three cases that, to me, indicate a ‘no’ vote — which, unfortunately, draw some reasoning as to why this prop was voted down.

    One is elderly people who don’t care about the value of their home (because they don’t know when they will sell, why they will sell, what they will sell for) and have no connection to KSD anymore. I think this is a significant voter population in Kirkwood and, even if it is truly a minority, this is the demographic who shows up in droves for votes like these. (When I voted, I was the only voter who looked younger than 55 years old in the room, and there were at least 10 voters there.)

    Another is people whose houses are already worth a lot more than what they purchased them for so the marginal benefit of any further increase in home value is diminished. This is probably just another reference to old people but I’m sure there are some middle-aged residents who might fall into this group.

    The third could be people whose houses are so expensive that any marginal increases in their property taxes cross over any perceived future value of housing price increases. In other words, there are a lot of big, expensive homes in Kirkwood, and any property tax increase presents a real burden on that household that might not be matched by the assumed marginal benefit.

    To me, it is shortsighted to not support property tax increases that are being reinvested in the local school district; however, the three groups of people I listed above could all have a rational argument to vote ‘no.’ There is probably a few more cases to vote ‘no,’ as well, that I haven’t mentioned, but I just wanted to inject the home value argument because I think that is how many voters approached Prop A.

    I do have a real gripe with anyone who voted ‘no’ based on perceptions that the school simply didn’t need more funding or that teachers in KSD are paid too much. I am not afraid to say that those voters were misguided and lacked a fundamental understanding of basic economics if those were their primary reasoning to vote ‘no.’ The reality is that KSD obviously needs funds to maintain its level as a top-tier public school and simple economics dictate that you need to pay high salaries to attract the best teaching talent.

    Keep up the great work, TKC!

  • M

    Mrs. Antona Brent SmithFeb 5, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Excellent analysis of the defeat of PropA. The writing succincltly outlines the concerns many of the the citizens have shared since the defeat of Prop A and the rather coerced messges coming via email or from the Board President in our local newspaper. I appreciate the balanced and objective approach the student journalists have taken in informing the community of what KSD did and could have done differently. TKC has been doing some of the most objective reporting on this issue. Citizens have had to navigate through the sometimes manipulative tone of the emails and Board President’s editorials in the Webster-Kirkwood Times to try to get to the heart of what happened. It should be a wake up call to the Board of Directors and I want to thank the student reporters for such great coverage on this still very sensitive topic in our town.

    Mrs. Smith, Parent of an alum (Class of 2012) who moved here in 2007 specifically for the high academics, diversity, and performing arts. Parent of Carnegie Hall bound girls in the Class of 2020 and Class of 2022, here for the long haul and supportive of the suggestions the students made in this article.