Ladue Horton Watkins High School
Michael Q. McShane

On April 5, voters in Ladue will be asked to increase their taxes to pay for $85,100,000 in new debt for the school district.  The district wants to borrow to renovate some buildings, to build new science labs and performing arts facilities, and to update other infrastructure.

Right now, residents of the Ladue school district pay 39 cents per $100 of assessed value of their property to service the existing debt of the school district.  The April 5 ballot measure would double that, to 78 cents per $100 of assessed value.

According to Zillow, the median home price in Ladue is $814,000. Because Missouri assesses home value at 19% of market value, the proposed tax increase is a $603.17 hike per year for the median home owner. Half of homeowners will pay more than that.

Ladue is a lovely place for a variety of reasons, but one thing that makes it so attractive to residents is that it takes advantage of the high value of its property by charging a relatively low rate of property tax. As my colleague James Shuls pointed out in talking about the proposed levy increase in St. Louis, Ladue’s levy is well below the St. Louis County average, but it is still able to generate a lot of money for its schools.  It’s an ideal situation.

Ladue should think long and hard before mitigating its competitive advantage over neighboring municipalities. Are there other efficiencies that it can find? Could it take on less debt, or wait until it has paid off what it has already incurred?  Is it buying new bells and whistles that aren’t associated with better student learning? The answers to these questions would tell voters whether they are getting additional value for their money.

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About the Author

Michael McShane

Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.