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Mehlville OKs budget with unanimous vote

The Mehlville Board of Education recently voted unanimously to adopt a fiscal 2005 budget — the first budget to receive unanimous approval since 1997.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance Randy Charles, who also serves as the district's chief financial officer, said at the June 29 meeting that projections indicate revenue will exceed expenditures during the 2004-2005 school year with $92,148,238 in total revenue and $91,747,727 in total expenditures.

"This is not a deficit budget," Charles noted.

Board Vice President Matt Chellis then thanked Charles, saying, "I knew I'd be able to vote for a budget" at some point.

In his career as a board member, Chellis has considered six budgets and the fiscal 2005 budget unanimously approved June 29 was the first budget he gave a "yes" vote. Previous budgets relied on reserves to balance them.

The end-of-the-year operating budget balance for fiscal 2005 should total $3,769,158 — 4.83 percent, Charles said.

Earlier projections indicated that the balance would have totaled 3.45 percent.

"Although that is better than what we anticipated a month ago, it's really nothing to get excited about," he said. "That's still very low in terms of school districts' standards. Three percent is the absolute minimum."

Increasing the projected 4.83 percent balance for fiscal 2005 is a top goal for the district, Superintendent Tim Ricker told board members.

"I think it bears mentioning again that we are concerned about balances," Ricker said. "We talked as a Central Office team again Monday about the fact that if and when you all decide to approve a budget for us for fiscal year '05 that we will continue to bring forward an expenditure reduction plan — or at least a 'levelization' of those expenditures to keep an eye on those balances."

Ricker warned that the district has to be able to deal with emergency situations, especially the possibility of future state withholdings.

In light of recent projections provided to board members, board member Rita Diekemper voiced concerns over recent teacher reductions, particularly at the middle-school level.

Initially, she said, staff reductions were believed to affect classrooms by an increase of one or two students. But she recently learned that classrooms would be more significantly affected for sixth-graders from Oakville Middle School and sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Margaret Buerkle Middle School.

Diekemper said, "I want to really make sure that if that's the case, that we keep a close tab on that, and if need be, that we hire ..."

Ricker interjected, "Remember that built into this budget we have contingency positions that we held in advance just for this kind of situation."

Five contingency teaching positions exist in the fiscal 2005 budget, Charles and Ricker added, to deal with any enrollment fluctuations.

Diekemper requested that the board be updated on the matter in August regarding elementary and middle-school class sizes and the status of the teaching contingency positions, noting that core classes were being affected by the teacher reductions.

The district's educational plan indicates that nearly 40 teachers retired by the end of the 2003-2004 school year, with 20 others resigning. Also, six principals and or/directors retired or resigned by the end of the year. The district reduced 43 certificated teaching positions and four administrative position for the 2004-2005 academic year, the plan states, including the restructuring of administrative positions to reduce expenditures.

Regarding revenue, the plan indicates:

• State aid from the foundation formula will remain at 1993 funding levels since Mehlville is a "held-harmless" district and will receive $770 per eligible pupil. Board member Mike Heins described Mehlville as a "held-hostage" district during the June 29 meeting.

• Property tax revenue should increase 2.61 percent, according to recent St. Louis County assessed valuation figures.

• Student activities revenue was increased by $100,000.

• $6,566,198 has been budgeted for voluntary transfer student enrollment because district officials project Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. enrollment and desegregation aid will remain the same.

Regarding projected 2004-2005 expenditures, the district's budget and education plan states:

• Teacher salaries have been increased by 2.35 percent. The same increase was given to classified staff.

• Overall, building administrators and certified directors will experience a 1.96 percent salary increase, while Central Office certified salaries will not be increased. "Despite these increases, the overall expenditures for salaries will decrease by approximately $3.4 million due to the reduction in the number of certified positions,'' the plan states.

• Insurance expenditures are anticipated to increase by 6.5 percent.

• Unemployment and workers' compensation benefits should remain the same.

While an adjusted tax rate will not be presented to board members until August, the budget approved by board members projected an estimated rate of $3.9123 per $100 of assessed valuation for the 2004-2005 school year, up from the current rate of $3.8750 per $100.

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