With continued federal cuts on the horizon for elementary and secondary education, Van-Far R-I and Community R-VI school superintendents had hoped monies from the November ballot’s Proposition B would have offered a cushion of support.
The proposition was shutdown statewide — 42,585 votes away from victory, according to election results from the Missouri Secretary of State. Audrain County cut down the tax 5,757-3,895, or by nearly 2,000 votes.
Touted as a route to curb Missouri’s smoking habit, only 20 percent of the .73-cent tobacco tax hike would have gone to cessation programs. Half of the tax would have gone to grades K-12 with the remaining 30 percent heading to higher education.
“Personally, I’m concerned that this time next year, I’m going to be looking at dramatic cuts,” Chris Felmlee, superintendent of the Van-Far R-I School District, said.
Contingent on student enrollment, Felmlee said school districts typically receive less than what federal coffers originally commit, from 88-percent funding or lower in the past for Van-Far to 91-percent funding with the current economy that’s showing signs of progress.
“Especially with the result of the election, we have a funding cliff,” Cheryl Mack, superintendent for Community R-VI, said. “To think we could lose nine percent right off the top is concerning. We have to find that money somewhere else if it’s not being supplied by the federal government.”
Felmlee said additional funds from Prop. B, estimated at between $100,000 to $150,000 for Van-Far, would have secured a safety net for 2-3 Title I teachers’ salaries, such as preschool instructors, reading coaches, and math and reading help.
He said the funds might also have gone toward technology, textbooks, or school safety, as well as bolstering the district’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining teachers.
Mack said since Community R-VI is a smaller district than Van-Far, the impact wouldn’t have been as great for the district. But for Community R-VI, she said the extra help would have secured one additional teacher.
“One teacher is very important to our kids,” she said. “Of course I’m disappointed, but we live in America, and (voting) is what a democracy does. I’m glad to see the system works — maybe not the way we wanted it to, but it works.”
Felmlee said the proposition didn’t pass in large part due to the spin placed on the issue from opposition meddling in the manipulation of facts and fear.
He said part of that spin was relating the proposition to early downfalls of educational revenue derived from the Missouri gaming industry, which was approved in part with language stating it would benefit education.
To demonstrate the early downfalls of the system, Felmlee made two piles of pennies on a desk in his office. One pile represented gaming revenue directed to education, the second pile.
Moving three pennies from the gaming pile to the education pile, Felmlee explained that in the past, legislature would take an equal amount of revenue from education as was put in by gaming — creating static, near zero gains in educational revenue for Missouri.
Three pennies came into education from gaming as legislature at the same time removed three pennies — this before the system was reworked.
He said opposition to Prop. B focused on this funding ploy and other twists, such as targeting smokers to pay for education, to turn voters against the issue.
In reality, Felmlee said the opposition ignored that funds from Prop. B would have been purely additional revenue for education, where three pennies would come into the pile and stayed.
“It would have been honest-to-goodness real money,” he said.
However, Felmlee said aside from the possibility of new funding, the proposition would have helped Missouri quit smoking.
“My biggest disappointment revolves around the students under 18 that start smoking and will continue to smoke because it’s affordable,” Mack said.
She said Missouri having the lowest tobacco tax in the nation will have an effect on the amount the residents pay in health care. With reductions in teen smoking and smoking in general as a result of Proposition B passing, Felmlee said school districts would eventually have seen less and less revenue. Though, he agreed that with less smoking overall, less money would be spent on treating smoking-related ailments in the state.
“Anything we can do to help cut smoking will help us in the long run,” Felmlee said.
With such a slim margin of defeat, “I think (the proposition) will come back up,” he said.