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Extremist Politics Will Not Solve the Achievement Gap

We had a chance to review the Kirkwood School District plan to close the Achievement Gap between Kirkwood School District White and African-American students.  We certainly agree that the district should focus on this issue.

The Tax Fairly Steering Committee Members personally provide financial support to the Kirkwood Area Every Child Promise organization and its goals.  We encourage all our supporters to consider supporting this organization financially.

What we don’t understand is, however, how the extreme leftist politics found in the suggested books to High School students is going to help close the achievement gap.  There are several titles, and after reviewing just a few, that promote Transgenderism, free abortions, and negotiating with ISIS.  We are pretty confident most parents and taxpayers are not supportive of the district promoting these view points to 15 year-olds.  These books and the ideas expressed in them will do nothing to solve the achievement gap.

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KIrkwood School District Lacks Salary Transparency

The Kirkwood School Board recently announced a 1.6 % pay raise for staff. While not inaccurate, the number hides more than it reveals.  For an organization whose Finance Department claims to be " committed to professional, economical and conservative financial management,” it's ironic, at best.  Highly taxed Kirkwood residents deserve better than irony.

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Vote for Williams and Bernardi on April 3rd

Tax Fairly recommends that you vote for Greg Williams and Angie Bernardi in the upcoming School Board election on April 3rd.  While we are not certain that they will always vote with Tax Fairly's fiscally responsible platform, we believe that these two hold positions that are more closely aligned with ours than the other two candidates who previously served as leaders of the pro-tax increase Prop A and Prop K Committees. 

Greg Williams is a father of three minor children who is involved at St Peters Roman Catholic Church.  He works professionally with K-12 school districts to determine operational cost savings and reviews many K-12 budgets.  This is a fundamental knowledge and skill to understanding how the district can possibly lower spending and save taxpayers money.  He opposes taxpayer supported pre-school but supports public/private initiatives such as the Kirkwood Every Child Promise Community Initiative.  He opposed Prop A but supported Prop K.

Angie Bernardi is a full-time mother of three college-age and adult sons. Angie has an impressive business resume and is a fixture at KSD committee meetings. She is the only incumbent running. She has been an active member of St. Peters Roman Catholic Church for 27 years. She has demonstrated a willingness to listen to our concerns over the years. Although she voted to put Prop A on the ballot in 2015 as a new Board Member, she eventually came to agree with us that $.78 per assessed $100 dollars of value was too great an amount. She believes in the benefits of early childhood education and is a member of Kirkwood Every Child Promise Community Initiative, but she thinks it would not be fiscally responsible to support Kirkwood School District taxpayer supported pre-school since the current budget does not allow for it.  She supported Prop K.

We are offering to put up their yard signs in your lawn if you would like one.  This will allow you to be anonymous to the candidates.  Please send us an email to this email if you would like a yard sign and include your physical address.

Please contact them yourself if you have questions or would like more information.

The Information Not Reported in Webster-Kirkwood Times

The October 20, 2017 Webster-Kirkwood Times story about Kirkwood School enrollment did not provide some very important facts about enrollment and taxes. 

First, total, not resident, enrollment grew by only 24 students.

Secondly, there are approximately 150 students counted as “residents” who are the children of non-tax paying employees which far exceeds the 115 new reported students.  This Orwellian word usage continually attempts to hide a costly burden to tax payers and deceptively masks the low growth in enrollment.  The neighboring Parkway School District does not provide this benefit and does not put the added financial burden on its taxpayers. Kirkwood should not either due to the high taxes, increases in healthcare and education costs, and low income growth suffered by middle and lower income Americans. 

Third, the 2017 Property Tax Reassessment produced $700,000 per year more than what the district said would be need from the Proposition K tax hike.  This amount with other funds combines to provide a surprise $2.6 Million one-time increase in revenue. The board did not roll back a corresponding amount in taxes that would have relieved tax payers, many of whom are paying much more due to the 2017 Property Tax reassessments.

Please attend Rate Hearing - September 11th at 5:00 PM

We are encouraging you to help lobby the Kirkwood School Board to lower the district tax rate by appearing at the Monday, Sept. 11 Kirkwood School District Plan/Work Session.  The meeting will be at 5 P.M. at the district office at 11289 Manchester Road.  If you can't make it, contact School Board members and make your voice heard.  Click here to link to the site that has the board members' email addresses.

Tax Fairly has reviewed the published Kirkwood School District budget for 2017-18 and has determined that it will generate a one-time $1.8 million surplus.  The sources of this surplus include $1.3 million left over from last year and an increase in revenue because of the release of $588,000 in disputed property taxes by the State Tax Commission.

In addition, the increase in assessed property values and a greater-than-expected CPI increase is scheduled to bring in $6.5 million -- not the $5.8 million the district estimated it would generate.  Thus, there will be $700,000 more in operating revenue indefinitely than was estimated during the Proposition K campaign.  

This comes to $2.6 million more in the 2017-2018 budget than what the board said it needed when promoting a tax increase last April. This situation is exactly what we were concerned about.  We expressed our concerns to several board and administration members on Dec. 7, 2016, when we were invited by then-Superintendent Tom Williams to meet with him and several board members.  You will recall that Tax Fairly recommended the board wait until after the St. Louis County bi-annual property tax assessments were completed to hold a tax election.  The district held the tax election months before the assessments were finalized. That is the cause of this potential overt-taxation. 

We need your help in urging the district to roll back taxes since the district is collecting $2.6 million more than it said it needed just last April. Because of the way public bureaucracies work, 
the district will most likely overtax residents if we do not act.

August 2017 Update

The biggest news is that the Rate Hearing will be held the evening of September 18th at the District Office.  We don't know the time yet but will update you when they publish the time.  You can assume anywhere from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM as a start time. We are encouraging all of our supporters to attend.  We will provide information about this hearing in the next few weeks and why it is important for you to attend. Please mark your calendars and plan to be there.
We received a few answers to our questions about the use of iPads and 1 to 1 technology in the classroom.  From the 2012-2013 to last year the Kirkwood School District spent just under $2 million on the devices, cases and applications.  We did not ask about maintenance costs but we can assume a 15% industry standard cost of maintenance.  This would come to $2.5 million over the three academic years.  The district, despite making this huge investment in computers, does not require teachers to use the equipment in lessons or track how often they do use the equipment.  Therefore, the money spent is unaccounted for since the district is not determining the use or managing the immense financial investment.  Tax Fairly is very supportive of 1 to 1 technology but there is no accountability for the money spent. Peter Drucker's dictum, "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it, " is important in this case.  
The district cannot tell us, in any meaningful manner, how many lessons are taught using the equipment.  They also won’t give us access to the systems that we could use to determine how many lessons are taught by each teacher.  We have the educational software knowledge to determine this information if they would give us access.  If you ever come across a Kirkwood School Board member, therefore, ask them these simple questions:
Do you know the percentage of lessons that are taught, per teacher, using the computers worth millions of dollars given to students by the district?  
Why did the Board spend millions of dollars on computers for children, some as young as Kindergartners, without a way to determine if they are being used in instruction?

We also have not received any word on whether or not they would consider combining the Technology, Maintenance and General funds.  This is important to taxpayers since combined funds would eliminate wasteful spending on 1 to 1 technology that is apparently not effectively being managed.  We hope to pursue this issue after the rate hearing.

June 26 Update

This post is to update you on what has happened since the budget meeting, KSD’s responses to date, and to what we hope to find out in the future.  The District responded to our questions in a timely and professional manner for most of the items and asked to meet with Martin Bennet.  They responded to our first set of questions but this spawned other questions.  We we now seek access to online systems to get the answers we seek about the 1 to 1 learning (free iPad) program.  We are also engaging the Interim Superintendent about our proposal of collapsing the Technology and Maintenance Funds into the General Fund.

Answered Items

They will continue to provide free health, dental and vision insurance to individual employees working over 30 hours a week.  This covers the individual employee but not his or her family members.  Employees can purchase coverage for family members.  We estimate that he cost of all these benefits for the 660 employees is roughly $1 million a year.  This benefit is not typically enjoyed by private sector taxpayers.

The District is not only offering free tuition for children of non-resident employees but now also the children of Special School District employees who work on assignment in Kirkwood Schools. Several of these workers are just part-time.  This increases the number of free-tuition students to 152.  Assuming a cost of $12,000 per student per year, the cost to taxpayers is $1,824,000 a year.  To those of you who pay or have paid private school tuition, let that sink in.

The district has no stated plans to open up a costly and unnecessary free taxpayer-supported pre-kindergarten.  This is a great relief.  This is something most all KSD parents currently pay for on their own.  Taxpayer funded pre-school is a constant threat to taxpayers and fiscal responsibility from teachers unions and bureaucrats who want to expand government by giving free child-care through public schools.  While there is evidence that this would benefit underprivileged children, the educational benefits of children attending pre-kindgergarten dissipate by the third grade for other children.

The District has no plans to build any buildings as of June 2017.

Unanswered Items

The district has changed the 1 to 1 Technology (free iPads for all students) survey to determine the actual number of lessons that the devices are used for lessons.  They have removed the ability to realistically determine how often and in how many lessons the devices are actually used.  We have asked them to provide access to the District's computerized lesson creation and storage software to determine this information.  We are also asking them to separate out the costs of the 1 to 1 technology that is used in instruction from the IT infrastructure that cannot be cut or lowered. That was a new request.  Our perspective is that if the spending does not support lessons then the technology is of little educational value and the money should not be spent.

We have a meeting with the Interim Superintendent at which we will hopefully receive answers to the new set of questions and discuss combining the Technology and Maintenance funds into the General Fund.  This, we believe, will eliminate the wasteful spending in the 1 to 1 technology program and potentially avoid future tax increases.  Since the Maintenance and Technology Funds are locked up for specific uses the board cannot relieve budgetary pressures in other areas.  The Funds, furthermore, exacerbate waste since they waste the money on such things as giving iPads to Kindergartners.  They either spend it or it just sits in an account not being able to be more wisely spent elsewhere. 

To do this means that the District would have to get a Board approval.  They could then get a legal waiver from the State of Missouri or be forced to put the issue on a ballot.  Tax Fairly would obviously support this Ballot Initiative.

New Questions

Tax Fairly, despite the passage of Proposition K, still hopes that the Kirkwood School District will lower unnecessary spending.  It has posed the following questions to the Kirkwood School Board on June 6, 2017 since the Board did not take questions during its Budget Hearing help on June 5, 2017.  The questions are listed below.  We are hoping for a response within the next few weeks.  We will pass it on once we receive the responses. 

  1. Will the district continue to provide free Healthcare, Vision and Dental to employees?
  2. Will the district continue to provide free tuition to the children of non-resident employees and SSD employees?  If so, how many students will this be for the 2017-2018 year?
  3. Would the board consider combining the Technology and Maintenance funds into the general fund?
  4. Will the district attempt to provide free pre-K to all resident children in the next five years?  If so, what will be the projected enrollment and estimated cost?
  5. Is the board considering a bond offering to pay for a new building(s)?
  6. How long will the recent operating tax increase last the Board seeks another tax increase?
  7. We have been requesting the results of the more recent Puentdura SAMR Model Teacher Technology Survey similar to the one attached since March 25, 2016.  Dr. Painter, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum,  committed to providing the results to the new study done in March 2016 to be forwarded in late 2016.  He has not responded to my repeated requests for the new results.  If you need help understanding what the SAMR model is we would be happy to explain it and its significance to you.  Misuse of the technology fund is what the first report revealed to Tax Fairly.  We are curious if that is still the case today and a similar survey could help reveal that possibility.  Could you please post the results?

We also responded that Martin Bennet, the Tax Fairly Treasurer, would accept Brent Heinrich's invitation made on December 7, 2016 to the new Budget and Revenue Committee that is being formed.  The full email is available on our Facebook page.

Thank You

Thanks to everyone who volunteered in our efforts to educate voters on Proposition K and why they should have opposed an 11% tax increase.  We appreciate all your hard work and effort.   We also thank those who voted against Prop K. 

While we are sorry we could  not convince enough voters to vote against Prop K, we take solace from our successful efforts to help defeat Prop A in November of 2015. We saved taxpayers from a 20% tax increase and retained 90% of our voter totals in this campaign as compared to the last.

The quick analysis of the vote shows that we lost 10% of our voters from November 2015.  The No vote was 6,884 in 2015 and 6,188 this year.  The tax increase supporters went from 4,776 to 8,552, an 80% increase.  The overall turnout went from approximately 38% in 2015 to 48% yesterday.

We would also like to offer our congratulations to the Proposition K supporters.  Their hard work and enthusiasm made the difference.