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Two bills would increase state aid to local schools


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January 12, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

The Mehlville and Lindbergh school districts could receive significantly more state aid next school year under pending legislation in the Missouri House of Representa-tives.

The 2005 legislative session opened last week and Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, introduced two proposals to curb Missouri's practice of freezing state funding at 1993 levels for "hold-harmless" school districts.

"It could at least give them (Mehlville and Lindbergh) some temporary relief until we can get an equitable foundation (funding) formula in place," Bivins said.

As hold-harmless districts, Mehlville and Lindbergh have received the same state funding since 1993, $771 per pupil at Mehlville and $289 per pupil at Lindbergh.

But legislation introduced last week — House Bill 129 — would add a consumer-price-index multiplier to the state funding formula, or foundation formula, that could generate millions for hold-harmless school districts, said Bivins, a former Mehlville Board of Education member.

"I had talked with Randy Charles, the assistant superintendent for finance at Mehlville, and he told me had something like that been in place in 1993, Mehlville would have gotten in additional $2.7 million or so," he said.

Charles, also the district's chief financial officer, de-clined to be interviewed by telephone for this article.

Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Sandfort told the Call, "Be-ing able to pick up that CPI and have that added to the revenue coming in through the state certainly would be a financial asset. This is something we've been talking about ever since hold-harmless went into effect. In the interest of the taxpayers and the benefit of the school district, it would certainly be of help to us if the Legislature — as we read it (the legislation) in more detail — would hold that promise for us."

Had a CPI multiplier been in place since 1993, Lindbergh would have received at least an additional $1.5 million from 1993 to 2004, said Pat Lanane, Lindbergh's chief fi-nancial officer and assistant superintendent for finance.

That's considering a conservative 2 percent CPI.

"It's not huge, but it would have helped," Lanane said. "That's enough to pay for a teacher's salary or something. Every little bit helps. Again that's about $1.5 million that the taxpayers wouldn't have to spend."

Another proposal — House Bill 128 — would give state aid to schools participating in the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. program, which allows children from the city to attend county schools.

The legislation would funnel about $1 million to Mehl-ville, Bivins said, and roughly $300,000 to Lindbergh, based on the number of "at-risk" or low-income children attending each school. But each district plans to phase out the program over time because of fiscal uncertainty about future funding. When the pupils are gone, the state funding also would be gone, Bivins said.

"I would hope by that time we would have a new education foundation formula that would meet the needs of schools like Mehlville and Lindbergh," he said.

Meanwhile, suburban lawmakers continue to struggle with the state's school-funding formula.

"They (the introduced proposals) are stopgap measures prior to us coming up with a new formula," said Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, who signed onto Bivins' legislation as a co-sponsor. "That is not going to be a short process."

Both Bivins and Lembke acknowledged the difficulty in instituting a different state funding formula. Since adopted in 1993, suburban lawmakers like Bivins and Lembke have protested the formula because it freezes state funding to the schools in their districts. Bivins and Lembke aren't alone but are outnumbered in the Legislature by out-state lawmakers who typically favor the formula. Changing it could mean less money for their schools.

Under the formula, property values determine the amount of state aid schools receive. In out-state Missouri, assessors are elected rather than appointed and property value assessments tend to be lower.

"The current formula in its current form is inequitable," Lembke said. "We don't have a level playing field because of the (property value) assessment discrepancies across the state. In the rural areas, people want to keep the formula because property is under assessed and they're re-ceiving more money because of that."

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