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Mehlville school board will focus on finances

Mehlville Board of Education members planned on hashing out the district's finances during a budget workshop session earlier this week.

Not only were they looking to examine next year's budget, but the session also was scheduled to focus on any adjustments that could be made to the current budget that could help avoid future shortfalls, according to Superintendent Tim Ricker.

Administrators were scheduled Tuesday — after the Call went to press — to provide board members with a budget framework and a goal for this year's ending balance, Ricker told the Call, so the district won't have to "dig deeper" into the next academic year's budget.

In turn, he said, administrators will be looking for input and direction from the board as to how to approach the rest of this year's and next year's budget.

"We've been talking about budgets all year long and how this year we're probably going to have to cut expenditures in some way, shape or form or next year's going to be even worse because of it being a non-reassessment year, no new revenue and things of that nature," Ricker told the Call.

"We want to make sure what we're doing now positions us so that we increase our balances at the end of the year based on our current budget and that enables us to look at the following year and be as prudent and as frugal as we can so that the end of the '05 fiscal year doesn't put us even further in the hole."

Most of the cuts from last year's budget affected staffing decisions, Ricker said, but making decisions about this year's cuts could be more challenging.

The state predicts a $979 million shortfall for its budget for fiscal '05, according to district documents, and Ricker noted there still are a lot of other state unknowns that may make the pre-budgeting process even more difficult.

"We don't know where the (foundation) formula's going. We don't know where the state budget is going. We don't know where the categoricals are going," he said. "And for us to look at increasing expenditures without any projected outlook on revenue is going to be difficult. So, more than likely, as we do this budget work, it is going to last up to the very end of when we need to have a budget adopted, which will be late June."

The state budget, the current district budget and projections for the next fiscal year were among the topics to be discussed.

In a separate matter Tuesday, board members were scheduled to consider an agreement with UNICOM/ARC — the same consulting firm used during the district's nearly yearlong public engagement process in 2000 for Proposition P that cost the district $10,000.

Now, the district is looking to use the same consultant for a 10-month public engagement process to help develop the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, according to Ricker — which could cost the district $30,000, if the board approves the consultant agreement.

"The comprehensive plan will include all programs, facilities, finance, technology and so on, and UNICOM/ARC will help facilitate the community engagement model," Ricker said.

The $3,000 a month UNICOM/ARC would charge the district, which would begin January and end in October, would not include public opinion research, video services or the services of other special consultants.

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