Clayton School District pushes tax increase to stop budget shortfalls for staffing, educational programing, maintenance needs

CLAYTON – Based on the community’s decisions and priorities over the past 140 years, the School District of Clayton has had the opportunity to grow into one of the top-rated schools in the country.

On April 2nd, district voters will have the chance to vote on Proposition E which will ultimately ensure the district’s funding in maintaining its staffing, class sizes and educational programming and addressing the facility and maintenance needs of each school building in the district.

Sean N. Doherty, superintendent of Clayton School District, released a letter to the parents, students, staff, and community members on Wednesday, addressing the necessity of getting this proposition passed to “continue [their] long-standing tradition of excellence.”

Additionally, in his letter, Doherty notes the gap between the school district’s revenues and its expenses. For the 2019-2020 school year, Clayton is projected to be nearly $4.8 million. According to Doherty, one of the factors contributing to the gap and limiting the district’s ability to keep its revenues on pace with its expenses is a Missouri law known as the Hancock Amendment.

The question is, how much does Proposition E have to do with the Hancock Amendment, and does the proposition actually relate more specifically with Senator Will Kraus’ tax reform policy?

Over the last two decades, the state funding per student attending schools in Missouri has declined, resulting from various attributes.

“For the Clayton School District specifically, the value of state funding has dropped compared to inflation or the real cost of providing education,” Amy Blouin, president and CEO of Missouri Budget Project, said.

Using the State Foundation Formula and Prop C Sales Tax Revenue, the Missouri Budget Project calculated that state funding per student in Clayton was $1,231 in 2001 and $1,592 in 2017. That amount of funding per student increased by 29.34 percent over the 16 year period, however, general inflation increased by 38.61 percent.

“The state funding provided per student was 9.27 percentage points lower than inflationary need,” Blouin said. “Lower than the actual cost of providing education.”

According to the project, this “dynamic” is occurring across the state. In Missouri, 300 school districts, nearly 60 percent, have been unable to keep pace with inflation in state funding per student.

This lack of state funding ultimately means that school districts are becoming even more so dependent on local funding sources. According to the project, Missouri is the second most regressive educational funding system in the nation, relying on local funding at a total of 59 percent.

“The decline in the value of state funding provided has been caused by multiple factors, beyond Hancock,” Blouin said.

A series of tax changes, in addition to SB 509 (2014), have reduced the amount of state funding available for public services by over $1.5 billion per year over the course of last 20 years.

SB 586 (2016) reduced the amount of state funding required in the School Funding Formula, reinstating a 5 percent cap on the growth of State Adequacy Target (SAT). SAT determines the required level of funding per student under the Foundation Formula.

“The cap was made retroactive and reduced the total amount of required funding under the Formula by about $460 million,” Blouin shared. “Thereby reducing the required amount of state funding per student.”

There is now a present competition between critical services.

“Funding for transportation is competing against funding for education, services for children are competing against services for seniors,” Blouin said. “It has also created a really volatile general revenue situation.”

Proposition E, if passed, will be an operating levy increase of 56 cents per $100 of assessed valuation as well as an eight cent waiver of Proposition C sales tax revenues. As of 2018, Clayton’s operating levy is 3.2678, which is one of the lowest operating rates in St. Louis County.

Reportedly, over the last nine months, the Board of Education and the district’s administration led a “comprehensive process” in which they listened to stakeholders and engaged community members through FOCUS Open Houses. Advisory groups, such a the district’s Long-Term Financial Planning Committee, also acted as the district’s strategic thinking partners in challenging the district’s assumptions.

“The residents of this District and, most importantly, the students who walk through our doors each day have high expectations for their public schools,” Doherty wrote. “The funds generated from Prop. E will allow us to continue to meet those expectations. We want to ensure both academic excellence and future financial stability by eliminating the gap between revenues and expenses, addressing facility and maintenance needs and rebuilding reserves.”