SJSD Teachers Say They Take Levy Defeat Personally, Fear Looming Cuts

Teachers in the St. Joseph School District were back in the classrooms on Wednesday. However, they admitted to being a little shook up after voters resoundingly said no on Tuesday to a tax levy increase for the district.

Posted: Nov. 9, 2017 9:16 AM
Updated: Nov. 9, 2017 5:03 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Teachers in the St. Joseph School District were back in the classrooms on Wednesday. However, they admitted to being a little shook up after voters resoundingly said no on Tuesday to a tax levy increase for the district.


"It's really hard not to set it aside and not take this personally, said Truman Middle School Teacher Lori Withim, who is also president of the St. Joseph MSTA teachers group.

Withim said the 72-28 percent margin of defeat was both surprising and disheartening. She says she fears the message that the result sends.

"It's the sense the community does not value education," Withim said.

The vote means the district will not be able to fill a $7 million budget gap and administrators say the SJSD Board of Education will need to make some significant spending cuts for the 2017-18 school year.

"It's going to be interesting. when 82 percent of your budget is staff size and benefits, you're going to have to take a look at that," said superintendent Robert Newhart.

That most likely means fewer teachers next year and more students in each classroom.

"You cut teachers or potentially cut staff, students are still here, said Eric Simmons, an art teacher at Central High School and also president of the St. Joseph NEA. "We still have an obligation to educate those kids. Our teachers are going to take on bigger responsibilities and bigger roles."

Many voters said their 'no' vote was not meant to punish students, but instead send a message to administrators to quit wasting taxpayer dollars and to cut costs at district headquarters.

However, Withim says there will be no way for the cuts to avoid affecting students.

"There's not $7.5 million of salaries down at 10th and Felix (administrative headquarters) nor can you eliminate enough from there to offset that. It's really dire, sad," she said.

Newhart says right now there is no plan to come back to the voters next spring and try another tax request. Simmons says that's a good thing.

"It is the district's obligation to reach out to the 70-some percent of our community who said no," Simmons said. "We are not ready to move forward. We are not ready to go forward with you. It is our job and responsibility to go to those members of the community and listen very intently and make sure they are on board with us before we do this again."

Both Simmons and Withim said the vote could affect staff retention rates with teachers at the end of the year deciding to leave and go to another district.

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