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District $1 million short of goal to cut $1.6 million from budget

The Mehlville School District is about $1 million short of its goal to cut fiscal 2004's expenditures.

If Mehlville Board of Education members make no changes to the current year's operating budget, the district's end-of-the-year balances are predicted to drop to 3.10 percent, Superintendent Tim Ricker said at a recent board meeting.

District balances must be more than 3 percent to avoid being placed on the state's financially distressed list. For end-of-the year balances to reach 5 percent, Ricker said administrators are looking to cut $1.6 million out of the budget.

But the identified cuts are not yielding the entire amount, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Randy Charles told board members last week.

Of the cuts administrators have proposed or already initiated for fiscal 2004, the district would realize a savings of $645,000 — about $1 million short of the amount needed to bring the district's end-of-the-year balance up to 5 percent.

Charles told board members that the district will save:

• $100,000 by reducing technology spending, excluding Proposition P technology enhancements.

• $75,000 through reductions and changes in district security.

• $135,000 by purchasing fewer buses.

• $35,000 by capping staff development for the year.

• $75,000 in Medicaid recovery.

• $1,000 from the district switching to SBC.

• $6,000 in consolidating pickups for sterile materials disposal.

• $23,000 in retirement savings.

• An additional $200,000 in fiscal 2004 budget recovery.

Administrators also are requesting every department and every building to review its budget line item by line item, make as many cuts as possible and avoid any deficit spending.

"We're not going to reach the 5 percent goal?" board member Rita Diekemper asked Charles.

"Probably not," he responded.

The cuts are going to keep the district above a 3 percent end-of-the-year balance and off the financially distressed list, he said. However, a 4 percent or 4.5 percent balance, realistically, is how the district will end fiscal 2004, he said.

But the board still has the power to make sure that fiscal 2005 balances will not meet the similarly low levels, according to Ricker.

By the next board meeting, the superintendent told board members, administrators would present a staffing pattern for fiscal 2005 since contracts have to be approved by April 15. He reminded board members that teacher and administrator salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent of the district's budget and that, he said, is the "No. 1" area that needs to receive focus to help end-of-the-year balances.

A budget committee, comprised of administrators, staff and community members, was scheduled to review the district's potential staffing pattern for fiscal 2005 during a meeting Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

"Randy (Charles) and the administrative staff and myself will be taking to the first committee meeting some ideas that we have on reductions well beyond what we think we need to keep our budget at the 4 to 5 percent level ...,'' Ricker said. "We're going to give them a smorgasbord, if you will, of possibilities and get the reaction from that group on our staffing pattern starting at the central office level down to the classroom."

The committee will be facilitated by Charles and meet throughout the formation of next year's budget.

Mehlville board members directed administrators last week to formulate their own budget reduction proposals for fiscal 2005 and then the board would review them. Ricker had told board members they also had the option of going through the budget line item by line item and come up with their own reductions.

"Having taken the exercise and gone through each line item, we think we (administrators) know where we will get the biggest return ...," Ricker told the board.

Board President Cindy Christopher said she would "feel more comfortable" with administrators examining the budget for cuts first.

"I think the administrators would have a much better grasp on the big picture," she said, noting they could evaluate the overall effects of any budget reductions that would be made.

Charles also presented information that could fuel a potential $1.7 million Proposition P budget adjustment. In light of recent contract adjustments and budget overages, Charles told board members they might want to consider the adjustment to the current $86.7 million districtwide building improvement program budget.

Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. The Proposition P budget was increased to $86.7 million last fall by the board. With a $1,732,579 budget adjustment, Proposition P would now cost $88,457,579.

The district has the money to make the adjustment, Charles said, because recent projections show $88,680,894 would be available by 2009. This would leave $223,315 in uncommitted funds by that year, he reported.

Diekemper asked how the construction budget's contingency fund would be affected by the $1.7 million adjustment.

Charles told her that the overall contingency fund would be depleted, despite the $1.7 million increase. However, he noted that remaining projects still would retain their respective contingency funds that are built into the projects' budgets.

No more bids would need to be approved until next school year, Charles said, and the board could wait until August before considering a revision to the Proposition P budget.

Board members did not direct administrators to propose a Proposition P budget adjustment at a future board meeting, but they did ask that Oversight Committee members look into the matter at their next meeting. Oversight Committee members are scheduled to meet again March 24.

In a closed session March 9, board members voted unanimously to extend a listing contract with Lechner Realty Group for the sale of the St. John's Elementary School campus — the property originally identified as the site for a new early childhood center.

The board voted in closed session Nov. 17 to begin negotiations with the Lechner Realty Group for a listing agreement for the St. John's site. During a closed session Dec. 15, the board voted to approve a 90-day exclusive listing contract with Lechner Realty for the St. John's site.

The contract, due to expire March 15 was extended four months, according to Ricker.

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