24:1 Education Town Hall Looks at the Normandy Schools Bond Issues
Forum Explores April 6 Ballot Prop T and Prop V from All Sides
Voters in the Normandy Schools Collaborative are being asked to decide several complex bond issues on April 6. The 24:1 Education Town Hall on March 25 explained the two that are directly related to schools: Prop T and Prop V.
Prop T would increase the operating tax levy ceiling by $.58 cents. This means a homeowner would pay $110 more in annual real estate taxes on a $100,000 home. NSC says this will provide funding for some of the following: construction of a new auditorium at Normandy High School, renovations at Viking Hall, expansion of the West Gym, new turn and a regulation-sized track, and parking lot improvements.
Prop V is a $26.5 million no-tax-rate-increase general obligation bond intended to fund improvements at the high school, cafeteria, and library as well as classroom renovations. Because the district is on the tail end of paying off a previous bond, this measure would add more money and more years of payment. Taxes would stay at their current level.
If both bond issues are approved by voters, the district would receive about $50 million, according to Phil Pusateri, the Normandy Schools Collaborative’s Assistant Superintendent for School Operations and Chief Financial Officer. While the schools may have additional funding sources for some of the work – for example, Normandy will get an estimated $2 million from the federal government for air quality improvements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – he said the bonds are the best way to make large-scale changes.
“There’s a lot of research that links quality environments to student performance,” Pusateri said. “If there aren’t visible defects [in their schools], students will be more focused on learning.” He added that Prop V, which would be used for renovations, is the more urgent of the two bond issues.
What are bonds?
Abdul-Kaba Abdullah works with bonds often in his role as Executive Director of the community development corporation Park Central Development.
A bond is basically a loan that is taken out by a city, school district, or anyone who can tax you, he explained. They use the future taxes that you will pay to secure the loan. They pay back the loan with interest by a certain date.
Bonds are usually used for basic projects like new buildings, roads, or improvements to facilities, Abdullah said.
There are two types of bonds:
- No tax increase bonds. These are used when a previous loan is paid off, but you are asked to keep paying the taxes at the same level so you can keep the existing resource or new services you have been receiving. (Or, in the case of Normandy, so new work can be done.) If this type of bond is not approved by voters, the loan ends and taxes go down.
- Tax increase bonds. These add to the existing taxes you are already paying in order to fund a project or resource.
History of bonds in Normandy
The district has used bonds for many years to build new schools (such as Jefferson Crossing and Barack Obama Elementary) as well as the new high school entryway, fence, windows, marquis, and doors, said Sheila Williams, a member of the Joint Executive Governing Board, the state-appointed body that oversees the Normandy Schools Collaborative.
Bonds have also funded everything from science room equipment to new curtains for the theater. They have helped pay for computers in classrooms, safety measures, a new floor for the dance studio, and Normandy’s transition to the elemiddle model.
Questions about the process of asking for these two bond issues
“We have always supported every bond issue Normandy has put forth,” said Mayor James McGee of the City of Vinita Park. “But now there is a lack of trust and transparency, and partnership between Normandy and the community at large. For the first time ever, we will not support a bond issue by the Normandy Schools Collaborative. We are putting our children first.”
McGee spoke as a representative of the 24:1 Municipal Partnership, which has an ongoing “Not Without Us” campaign to promote local representation in decisions in the Normandy district. His fellow mayors, Brian K. Jackson of the City of Beverly Hills, added that the mayors had asked the school not to move forward with these bond issues at a time when so many families are struggling due to the pandemic.
“Some of the children in our communities are barely getting food to eat, and you want to stack tax bills on their parents,” Jackson said. “Our citizens already have trouble paying their taxes as it is.” He questioned the need for the bond issues during the COVID pandemic—especially considering that the residents of North St. Louis County already pay some of the highest taxes in the metro area.
The resident-led group hosting this town hall, the 24:1 Public Policy and Advocacy Council, had already identified education as one of its 2021 priorities, according to its spokesperson for the meeting, Council member and community advocate Elwyn Walls. Through its outreach to local residents, the Council has found that many residents have been impacted by the pandemic, both financially and educationally. Many will continue to face struggles in 2021.
Several audience members also raised questions about the process and timing of these bond issues. Regina Marsh, Normandy’s Director of Community Partnerships and Engagement, explained that the district had worked with two consultants to do community outreach (which was complicated due to COVID) before the bond issues were put on the ballot.