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Frank, Leach cite commitment to teachers at budget workshop

May 04, 2005 - A 2005-2006 budget scenario designed to spark conversation did just that as the Mehlville Board of Education's two newest members last week emphasized their commitment to placing the district's limited resources in the classroom.

At a roughly hourlong budget workshop April 28, board members Karl Frank Jr. and Ken Leach spoke of their commitment to classroom teachers during a discussion of a budget scenario that included expenditure assumptions of a 0.5 percent salary increase, but no channel changes or step increases for teachers.

Frank and Leach were elected to the school board April 5, along with Cindy Christopher, who was elected to third three-year term.

A budget scenario discussed by board members in March included expenditure assumptions of a 3 percent salary increase, but projected that expenditure reductions of more than $2 million would be needed for the coming school year to maintain a 3 percent operating fund balance. The same budget scenario also projected that to ob-tain an operating fund balance of 5 percent, expenditures would have to be re-duced by roughly $3.7 million.

Before discussing the 2005-2006 budget scenario last week, Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the dis-trict's chief financial officer, reviewed projections for the current school year.

"... Our total revenue of $95 million is actually 3.4 percent more than we anticipated,'' Charles said, attributing the additional revenue to an increase in the amount of delinquent taxes collected. "Our delinquent tax revenue receipts are much, much higher this year than they've been at any time in recent history. We don't know really the reasons for that, whether there was a shortage of collections last year or just what's contributed to it, but our delinquent tax collections are way up this year.''

Total revenue for the 2004-2005 school year is projected at $95,317,946, 3.44 percent more than anticipated, while total expenditures are estimated at $94,238,610, 2.71 percent more than originally projected.

Charles said, "... Total expenditures do exceed the original budget by about 2.7 percent. Now the reason expenditures are up, when we opened school at the beginning of this year it was necessary to staff some enrollment bubbles that surfaced the first few weeks of school and we had to add some teaching staff ...''

The bottom line, he said, is the district is in slightly better shape than anticipated when the original 2004-2005 budget was adopted.

"... The net result is we're in a little better shape than we thought we would be when you approved the budget of June 29 of 2004. At that time, we were projecting an end-of-the-year balance of about 4.8 percent when we close the books this year. Right now we're looking at an end-of-the-year balance in the general and special funds of about 6.15 percent. So obviously the kinds of reductions that our staff has made this year and the, I guess, the good decisions that they're making on a daily basis have paid off ...,'' Charles said.

The 2005-2006 budget scenario presented last week projects total revenue of $94,378,084 with estimated expenditures of $94,019,064.

Charles said, "The Central Office team has been working diligently on looking for opportunities for budget reductions and, to be honest with you, there just aren't many opportunities left. This district made some very significant reductions last year. We reduced 42.5 teaching positions, which was 6.4 percent of our teaching staff. We reduced, I believe it was six administrative positions, which was 11 percent of administrative staff, and we reduced 15.5 support staff positions, which was 3 percent of our support staff.

"For us to make any significant reductions in staff this year is just — it would be very, very difficult to do at best because, again, we still are wanting to maintain quality programs and, again, abide by MSIP (Missouri School Improvement Program) standards. We don't want to have class sizes that ex-ceed MSIP standards. So we put together another (budget) scenario for you, just for discussion ...,'' he said.

Charles later said, "When we talk about the tax levy for next year, we've got to re-member that the CPI (Consumer Price Index) for the month of April really ties us down to how much of that increase in assessed valuation we're allowed to capture in terms of additional tax revenue. You're limited by your actual growth or 5 percent or the April CPI, whichever is smallest and right now it looks like the April CPI is going to be in the neighborhood of 3 percent. So that's the figure we used in putting this draft together. Because we had such a significant increase in assessed valuation, it will probably cause — it will cause us to make a significant decrease in the levy. I don't have that number right in front of me, but we do anticipate that we'll reduce a portion of the

49 cents that's allocated to Prop P. We've run the long-range cash-flow projections on that, it will be more than enough to continue to make our principal and interest payments on our certificates of participation and fund the remaining roofing projects I think we have coming up in the next three to four years, but we'll probably — it looks like we'll take a reduction in the Prop P portion of two to four cents.''

In response to questions from board President Rita Die-kemper, Charles later said, "... If we do not roll back a portion of the Prop P (tax rate), that's capital, then that means we're rolling back however many cents it is — if it's eight cents, 15 cents, .5 cents — that will force us to roll it back all on the operating side, OK? It would cause us to roll that back at a disproportionate amount in the general fund and the special fund if we ignore the 49 cents of the capital fund. We need to roll that back proportionately across all funds — except debt service ...''

After further discussion about the 2005-2006 Proposition P tax rate, Charles said, "... We'll be collecting as much money, but it will take lesser of a levy to accomplish that.''

At one point, Frank noted that he was aware of MSIP standards and aware of the "obvious pluses'' of having four assistant principals at each high school, but advocated doing everything possible to find revenue to fund channel changes for teachers in an effort to attract and retain the highest quality teachers.

"I would think we would want to do everything in our power to pay for those channel changes,'' Frank said.

Charles said, "Right, I agree. Again, this was just a scenario to put out there. But, again, when you do something that drastic, when you're talking about not giving steps, not giving channel changes, giving a half percent raise, doing even things that drastic and our end-of-the-year balance is projected at 3.6 percent. It's just another way of looking at how big the challenge is. Now could the decision be to maybe reduce some positions, whether it's administrative (positions) or support staff and then do a little better on the salary side? Sure, those are kinds of things that will be discussed, no doubt.''

Noting that there's not much left to cut and no simple solutions, board Secretary Mike Heins said, "... You can't look at one area and say the fact that we have five — four assistant principals at the high school because those four assistants are all very involved and even though they might have the title of assistant principal, they're also replacing the activity director who's no longer at the high school. He was there last year. He was one of the budget cuts. So you can't just get rid of them and all of a sudden you're getting rid of ...''

Diekemper interjected, "Or the resource officers that we cut the year before ...''

Heins interjected, "There are no simple solutions here.''

Frank later said, "... I just prefer to spend as much money as possible where it's most efficient, and that's in the classroom ...''

Heins said he believed everyone in the room agreed with that sentiment.

Leach said he believes that administrators work hard, but the issue is one of limited resources.

"... The teachers have the most contact with the students and students are in our mission statement as being the most important thing. So if we come down to where we have to make cuts, then ... I think that the teachers need to be the last thing,'' he said.

Several board members and Superintendent Tim Ricker began speaking at once, with Ricker saying, "... Wasn't our action last year reflective of that?''

Leach noted that 42 teaching positions were eliminated.

Ricker replied that last year's cuts totaled 6 percent of the teaching staff and 11 percent of the administrative staff.

Leach replied, "Yeah, but you know what? I knew a guy that drowned in a lake with an average depth of two inches, too ... You can take these, you know, these figures and you can, you know, they could be a little bit misleading.''

Charles responded that administrators' responsibilities and amount of work didn't decrease, noting that the remaining 89 percent "picked up the 100 percent of the work.''

"And I don't dispute that at all,'' Leach said, noting that when he attended Oakville Senior High, the school had one principal and one assistant principal. "Still, we've got the same amount of kids ... We need the teachers. I would put emphasis on the teachers myself first and I just think that ...''

Ricker interjected, "Well, are you assuming we're putting emphasis on the administrators first?''

Leach replied, "No, what I'm assuming is that we've got a lot more administrators than we did in the past and I know that ...''

Ricker again interjected, "In the past when?''

Leach replied, "When I went to school.''

Ricker said, "What year was it?''

Leach said, "1976.''

Ricker said, "OK. We'll go back and get the data on that and we'll look at those administrators and we'll look at the total population. We'll look at the programs that are offered. We'll look at the details ... that will compare the two and then we'll be able to bring that back to you to see that 1986, was it?''

Several people said 1976.

Ricker continued, "... '76 is not 2005.''

Leach said, "I thank you for that comment.''

Ricker added, "... The requirements of education are not the same.''

Noting he understood, Leach said, "I mean I'm able to figure that out, Tim. You know, the thing is, is that what I'm saying is that I think we keep going back to the pool ... It's easy to go back to that pool and make cuts because that's going to have the biggest effect, you know. We keep going back to the pool, the next thing you know it's going to be dry ...''

Ricker said, "We agree.''

Diekemper said, "... It's been dry ... It's been dry for ...''

Heins interjected, "It's been dry for 19 years because this district has had to borrow money every September to make payroll — every September for the last 19 years. That's how low our reserves are. This is nothing new, Ken ...''

Noting that Mehlville's teacher salaries are below the county average, Leach said he was concerned about how the district is allocating the money it has.

"Where are we misspending that?'' he asked.

Charles said, "The bottom line, we just don't have the money. You can't misspend what you don't have. Our per-pupil expenditure is the fourth lowest in St. Louis County and we don't keep money in the bank. That just means we simply don't have it. Our per-pupil expenditure is below the state average ... Yet under the state formula, we're considered an affluent school district and our state funding's been frozen for 13 years.''

Leach said, "And I know that that's not fair ... I'm just concerned that we've cut — I mean, to me, it's seems like we're really getting down to the meat ...''

Several board members spoke at once, with Diekemper saying, "I know it's overwhelming, Ken, I mean, I know that. This is what we've been dealing with the four years I've been on the board — or at least the past three.''

Heins interjected, "But there are no simple solutions. You can't just say ... well let's look to cut administrators because I can tell you if you talk to the high school teachers over at Mehlville, they don't want to lose a position at the high school, one of those assistant principals. They need them. They need them for discipline. The administrative issues that go along with discipline today are enormous ...''

No simple solutions exist to balancing the budget for the coming year and difficult choices will have to be made as the 2005-2006 budget process continues, he added.

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