Prop S enhances safety. It brings concrete security improvements to several existing schools (secure entrances at KECC, North Glendale Elementary and Kirkwood High School). It also enhances safety by ensuring a manageable number of students and families for the staff of each school to get to know — it’s easier to stop strangers at a small school, security and discipline are easier to maintain, and students feel more connected. By reducing traffic near our schools, it provides safety for students as they begin and end their day. By avoiding overbuilding on existing schools, it maintains buffers between playing children, parking lots, roads and residences.
Prop S builds community. It would be a mistake to fail to provide for our current students in order to discourage people from living in Kirkwood. Prop S also secures tax-decreasing bonds financed at interest rates well below inflation and protects our existing schools, playgrounds and campus green space — foundations of our community.
This bond is the most fair approach for Kirkwood property owners. It allows for the continued and future success of our schools, a critical long-term value for our community. It reduces the current tax burden now, and does so in a responsible way that deploys capital when it is needed and finances it at attractive interest rates (currently 1.65%). If passed, our debt service levy will be among the lowest in St. Louis County. It also keeps our Prop K commitments: (1) to not seek an operational tax increase for at least five years; and (2) to protect our class size and educational quality. Finally, while passing the bond will lead to increased operational costs, much of those costs are from the hiring of teachers — positions that are more dependent on student growth, irrespective of building construction.
Moreover, it prevents future growth from requiring a new school 5–10 years from now, after even more sacrifices have been made. The overall trend for over a decade has been persistent increases each and every year in KSD resident enrollment, persistent (though small) increases in Kirkwood’s total population, and a trend of increasing “capture” of live births into our school system — that is, more families are moving in after their children are born and fewer children are leaving Kirkwood or choosing to be educated outside of KSD. Each of these facts has occurred even as nationally (and in Missouri) birth rates have been declining over the same period. These factors suggest that enrollment after 2025 will continue to grow, even if the rate of growth is more modest than we have seen.
Furthermore, it protects and advances equity and diversity in our District. Without enhancing capacity, we would almost certainly need to end the practice of allowing the children of non-resident teachers and staff from attending KSD, a move which would make it harder to recruit high quality teachers in general and high quality teachers of color in particular. By expanding access to before and after school care, it addresses a current need of working parents. By constructing a modern building and improving other aged buildings, it improves accessibility. By reducing the number of students per building, it allows teachers and administrators to better tailor instruction for all students.
Prop S promotes excellence. It allows school and class sizes, and staff diversity, to be closer to recommended levels for student achievement. Our existing elementary schools are larger than recommended sizes for establishing personal connections with our students and maximizing student achievement. Our elementary school sizes also exceed those accepted in peer districts. Overcrowding currently prevents teachers from being able to prepare, to create respectful and appropriate spaces for one-on-one interactions, and to implement educational tools. In the next 24 months it will also require class size increases in violation of commitments we made when Prop K passed, against best practices, and despite district classrooms having a smaller footprint than comparable districts. Without building a new school, there is no fiscally responsible solution for alleviating existing overcrowding in shared spaces, such as cafeterias, or “specials” such as PE, art and music, requiring students forfeit recommended hours of each.
Research shows that the improvements in student outcomes are particularly strong for low-income elementary-aged students, where small schools correlate not only with better grads and test scores, but also with better attendance, fewer behavior problems, and increased participation in extracurricular programs. (Greenwald, Hodges & Laine, 1996).
This is not a decision we should delay. Our students are currently suffering from overcrowding at several of our schools. Most of the enrollment growth comes in the next two years, meaning there is no way to accommodate students in 2022 unless capacity increases are approved now. Finally, available bond rates are favorable at this time, allowing the community a bigger bang for its buck. There is no guarantee these rates will be available to us in the future.
For these reasons, I voted to place Prop S on the ballot and will vote for it again on April 7.