Education

Penny sales tax for schools won’t be on November ballot

St. Clair County voters will not see the referendum calling for a penny sales tax for education on the ballot Nov. 8, but school districts have until December to decide if the measure will be on the April ballot.

The referendum was reviewed by the school boards in the county. In order to make it before the voters, boards representing at least 50 percent of students in the county had to agree on the referendum.

The added sales tax, by state law, can be used on additions and renovations, security and maintenance, as well as for debt on construction or renovation of buildings. Any additional revenue generated cannot be used for instruction, which includes salaries and textbooks or operating costs.

Belleville districts 118 and 201, which have the second- and third-largest populations of students in the county, both voted over the summer to table the issue.

In July, Superintendent Matt Klosterman of District 118 told the board that administrators were concerned with the timing of the vote.

“Are we sure the timing is right for that particular election,” he said, referring to the contentious presidential election that will be on the November ballot.

The boards that did vote in favor of adding the referendum to the November ballot did so before Donald Trump was named the Republican nominee for president in July. Klosterman expressed concern over voters fully understanding the penny sales tax when their attention could be diverted to the presidential election.

District 118 ultimately tabled the resolution.

We just felt like now was not the right time (to vote on the penny sales tax) given everything with the state.

Jeff Dosier, Belleville District 201 superintendent.

The Belleville High School district, which could expect about $2 million a year from the added sales tax, also cited concerns with politics.

“We just felt like now was not the right time (to vote on the penny sales tax) given everything with the state,” said Jeff Dosier, District 201 superintendent.

The state is in its second year without a full budget, and payments to local school districts are behind in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some school officials were concerned that with the penny sales tax, they would not receive money for transportation and other categorical payments from the state.

Cahokia District 187 did not vote on the referendum either. Superintendent Art Ryan said the board is “probably going to do it” but said the referendum had been pushed back, so a vote by Cahokia wouldn’t be necessary until December in order to make the April ballot.

Mascoutah District 19 and O’Fallon District 90 both reviewed and voted in favor of the penny sales tax in June. In all, 26 districts, mostly small, approved the referendum, but most of the larger districts did not.

The district would net about $1.9 million annually, which it would use to pay down current debt, and improve school security, said Superintendent Carrie Hruby, of O’Fallon District 90.

Hruby said the district had fielded “more questions rather than opposition” to the idea of the penny sales tax. She said without the penny sales tax, security improvements will take longer to do.

“Without that type of revenue, we’re going to have to put it on the back burner and hope to do it someday,” she said.

Officials with East St. Louis School District 189, the largest district in St. Clair County, did not return calls or messages for comment.

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