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Green and Daly: Like an old home, St. Louis Public Schools need an uplift with Prop S

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St. Louis Public Schools

A sign advertising jobs for safety officers and custodians is seen at at St. Louis Public Schools property on July 20. Proposition S seeks voter approval for borrowing to improve school building safety and quality.

Living in an established city like St. Louis, we know something about the challenges that come with an old home. You must keep up with the paint, the plumbing, heating and cooling, the roof and more. Now imagine being responsible for more than 60 such homes, nearly half of them more than a century old. How do you keep up?

St. Louis Public Schools needs voters to approve Proposition S — a no tax increase bond issue — on Tuesday’s ballot. It is a request of voters for permission to borrow the money needed to make much-needed improvements.

It’s the right thing to do for children, the fiscally prudent step as a property owner, and the responsible thing as a good neighbor.

Proposition S would provide the funds that will give our students a safer, healthier, and better environment in which to learn. It is a way to reinvest in our students, our schools and our neighborhoods.

The safety component is reflective of how our world has changed. Exterior doors would be replaced and security systems modernized. Both priorities would help ensure our buildings and our kids are secure by 21st century standards. Most of our buildings weren’t designed to handle the safety issues students face today. Fire alarm systems would be installed, as well, giving our students and staff the ability to focus on learning, not worry about safety.

The pandemic has taught us more about the value of ventilation. Our aging HVAC systems needed attention in many of our buildings simply for comfort. The pandemic reminded us all that air circulation and quality are of equal importance. Proposition S funds would be used to upgrade or replace obsolete systems.

Then there are the restrooms. Some of the district buildings, while beautiful and historic, need significant improvements in water fountains and restrooms both to meet modern requirements but also to meet today’s aesthetic standards. Most children will tell you the improvements coming here are long overdue.

If passed, the improvements made because of Prop S would be visible both inside and outside of the school buildings.

The money also would allow for exterior upkeep like tuckpointing brick and roofing work. This would make these old gems, built to be the centerpieces of their neighborhoods, return to living up to that billing.

Adding green space creates new outdoor learning and play spaces for students at some schools that are surrounded by an unwelcoming sea of blacktop. Prop S funds would also be used to match a recently approved state grant to replace fencing around neighborhood schools. Some of the fences were painted with lead paint decades ago, making removal and remediation a top priority.

St. Louis Public Schools last asked voters for a bond issue back in 2010. The community said yes, and the school district completed every project on time and under budget and created hundreds of jobs in the process.

Over the last decade, the district has proved itself a careful steward of taxpayers’ money. It has erased a budget deficit and regained accreditation from the state. Under the governance of the elected school board over the last three years, it has improved upon this fiscal discipline and has been able to keep the tax levy the same while maintaining a critical fund balance. This allowed the school board the financial flexibility to place Prop S on the August ballot, asking taxpayers to approve the $160 million dollar bond while not increasing taxes.

Unlike many surrounding school districts, bond issues for St. Louis Public Schools are rare. City voters should have the confidence that this bond is not only needed but that it will not raise taxes, and the investment would pay dividends for the city’s children and our neighborhoods.

It is time once again for the St. Louis schools to get the same repairs, upgrades and renovations any homeowner would do for his or her property, which is why we recommend voting yes on Tuesday for Proposition S.

Darlene Green is the St. Louis comptroller. Gregory F.X. Daly is the city’s collector of revenue.

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