District’s Suggestion That Resident Enrollment Growth Justifies a Large Tax Increase Now is Misleading
Yes, resident enrollment has grown by 600 students, or 14%, over five years. Yes, such growth has its costs.
The district has emphasized this growth as a reason for the 78-cent tax increase, but without acknowledging the 64% increase in revenue over the last decade. (That increase is examined elsewhere on this site.)
The board has chosen not to address another enrollment-related cost: the 140 children of district employees who do not live in the Kirkwood district, but attend Kirkwood schools tuition-free. As required by the state, the district reports them to the state as "residents."
But the district also counts them as "residents" in its presentations supporting the tax increase. (A demographer hired by the district to study growth trends properly removes the "nonresident residents" from his estimates.)
The emphasis, of course, should be on total enrollment. It is the main driver behind cost increases. It often triggers the need for more teachers and more classrooms. Total enrollment grew by only 10.6% in the last five years. And total enrollment will drop when transfer students from the Riverview Gardens and Normandy districts leave Kirkwood this year or next, as is expected. When that happens the total enrollment increase over five years becomes only 8%. The proposed tax increase -- 19.2% -- appears to be more than double the need. But won’t future growth call for more money? Probably, but not this much and not now. (School districts, in fact, are prohibited from seeking tax increases based on perceived future needs.)
“Increased enrollment” would seem to be a logical reason for a tax increase.The School Board's assumptions, however, rest on shaky foundations. Two thirds of the recent growth has been in elementary, and it is far from certain that elementary enrollment growth will continue. Last year, kindergarten enrollment was flat compared to the previous year. This year, it is expected to drop by 12%.
Free all-day kindergarten, 14 new classrooms and building additions undoubtedly fueled some of that increase, siphoning children from private and parochial schools. The uncertain economy no doubt played a role in an increase in transfers. But that surge of transfer students is probably over, many believe.
Total elementary enrollment growth has been only 2% this year and last.
Are some folks moving to the district bringing new students with them? Yes. How many? Who knows. Are some resident families choosing public over private? Yes. What percentage?
The study done by the School Board's paid expert did not have access to Kirkwood birth rates from the Census Bureau. As a result, the data that the School District presents to justify a large tax increase does not address the questions posed in the previous paragraph.
The district continues to advocate continued expansion and more spending based on incomplete estimates.