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$86.7 million is new Prop P budget

A revised budget totaling more than $86.7 million for the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program has been approved by the Mehlville Board of Education.

After months of discussion, the Board of Education voted 6-0 last week to approve the revised and reformatted Proposition P budget. Board Vice President Matthew Chellis was absent from the Sept. 15 meeting.

The revised budget totals $14,325,000 more than the original Proposition P budget of $72.4 million that was approved by the Board of Education in October 2001.

District voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million districtwide building improvement program funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase.

"We've retweaked it," board President Cindy Christopher said. "Hopefully this is something we can all live with."

Superintendent Tim Ricker recommended board members engage in a "three-prong accountability process."

Besides the annual audit, he suggested board members conduct a yearly Proposition P budget analysis and review along with placing the budget on the board's consent agenda monthly. This would allow board members a chance every month to bring up questions or concerns if necessary, he said.

Any unforeseen Proposition P-related projects or costs will be brought to the board's approval to be spent from its contingency fund, the superintendent said.

"And my suggestion is that, if the board feels comfortable, to not spend any other monies beyond the Phase I Master Plan before doing anything else," he said. "We need to keep in mind what we promised."

Board members supported his recommendations.

Under the revised Proposition P budget, the total cost of the districtwide building improvement program and related projects would be $86,725,000.

Meanwhile, current district projections indicate the 49-cent tax-rate increase will generate nearly $26 million more over 20 years than what is required to retire bond-like certificates of participation issued to fund the Proposition P improvements.

A total of $83,730,000 worth of certificates of participation was issued in two separate sales — one for $36.9 million and a second for $46.83 million. The first certificate sale in March 2001 also included the advance refunding of $6 million worth of leasehold revenue bonds that the district had issued three years earlier as part of a long-term energy savings project.

Because the leasehold revenue bonds for the energy savings were not "callable'' until 2008, an escrow fund of more than $6 million was established with the certificate proceeds to make the principal and interest payments on those bonds, resulting in a savings of $126,000. When those bonds can be retired in 2008, the escrow money will make the final payment.

Current estimates indicate the 49-cent tax-rate increase will generate $170,165,506 through 2022, while the amount needed to retire the certificates of participation is projected at $144,346,224 — leaving a surplus of $25,819,282 in district capital funds.

Board member Bill Schornheuser suggested delaying action on the budget until Proposition P Oversight Committee members had a chance to review it. But Christopher said the Oversight Committee would not meet until October and that would be too much time to wait and approve the budget.

In a separate matter, administrators and board members also publicly evaluated district class sizes and enrollment figures for the first time this school year at the Sept. 15 meeting.

Mehlville's total enrollment is 11,702, which is about 100 fewer students than last year.

Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed said the district has been following Department of Elementary and Secondary Education class size guidelines.

If class sizes are exceeding those standards, a teacher aid could be added to the classroom or an additional class section could be created. During the first two weeks of school, she said, class sizes were closely monitored and will continue to be monitored, but the current number of class sections are "unlikely" to change.

"Once we get to this point in the time line, we usually do not develop an additional section," Reed said.

Traditionally, she said, the district is allowed a 5-percent float in class sizes that can exceed standards. Performance classes like band and choir, that by nature are expected to bring in more students, make up most of that 5 percent, she said.

The district's primary concern is ensuring that class sizes in the core subject areas are at or below standards. Some adjustments have been made, but Reed told board members that both middle and high school class sizes are running high.

She said administrators will continue studying class sizes and the effects of the redistricting, but most classes are well within educational standards.

"We're still chasing some, but we're either OK or going to be soon," she said.

In other action, board members unanimously approved a material distributions policy that will limit what fliers and papers students can bring home.

School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wallace presented the policy to board members, saying the district needed a clearer, more straightforward policy. A need existed to limit the amount of materials that were being sent to students and to eliminate students being used for financial purposes, he said.

"The new policy is real simple," Wallace said. "If it's not school-sponsored, it's not going home."

Under the new policy, if an organization or event is not district-sponsored, then its materials are not going to be distributed to students at schools. The policy bans for-profit organizations from distributing ma-terials directly or indirectly to students.

Non-profit organization materials cannot be directly distributed to students, but with the consent of the district's School/Community Relations Department, will be able to make the materials available to be picked up by students at designated tables or areas in schools.

The policy will not allow any entity to advertise religious activities, but it will allow churches to promote secular activities, such as sports teams.

State and local government entities or departments, such as the St.Louis County Department of Parks and Recreations, will be able to distribute its materials.

At the meeting, Wallace held up a stack of 27 different requests to distribute materials he had received from the beginning of the year. Based on the policy, only three were not in violation.

Wallace told the Call he spent the rest of that week on the phone explaining the new policy to people who wanted to, but could not advertise their products or services to "I was on the phone with a woman who represented a for-profit business that provides tutoring for students," he said. "When I told her 'no,' she said: 'I'm surprised we got away with it as long was we did.'"

The district will provide directory information, however, to for-profit groups that wish to mail their materials and advertisements to students, which is what they should be doing in the first place, Wallace said. So far, the district has received two to three directory requests.

Non-profit organizations have to prove their tax-exempt status and provide the district with paperwork before its materials can be made available to students.

"This cleans up the gray area in the policy," he said. "There's less papers for teachers to sort and pass out and more time for instruction."

In other discussion, Ricker indicated that the district is preparing to change policies in response to the recently approved state concealed-weapon law.

The Mehlville School District has been and will continue to be a gun-free zone, he said, but there still are signage concerns and procedural changes that need to be dealt with by administrators and the board.

"This is going to cost us a fair amount of money," he said. "But we're going to err on the side of caution and ensure the protection of kids and parents."

Ricker told the Call he does not plan to propose the purchase of metal detectors in buildings or place armed guards in every hallway of every school.

The district currently has armed police officers in schools along with unarmed security officers.

And that shouldn't change, he said. The district is discussing ramifications of the state law with lawyers. Ricker said he will present any policy changes and signage costs at the board's next meeting Monday, Sept. 29.

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