By SCOTT MILLER
Four candidates seeking election to the Lindbergh Board of Education agree on nearly everything.
All four support Proposition A, a 65-cent tax-rate increase on the April 5 ballot. All four caution against spending down the district’s $22 million reserve fund, which is equal to roughly half of Lindbergh’s operational expenditures.
All four want competitive teacher salaries and benefits. And all four want to make sure Lindbergh remains the “crown jewel” of the neighborhood school districts.
The main difference between candidates is their experience. Board President Mark Rudoff, Vice President Barry Cooper and board member Katie Wesselschmidt have served on the board six years.
Bob Foerstel, a city teacher, is the newcomer, hoping to “give back to the establishments that have influenced my life.” He is the only candidate without children.
The four candidates are vying for three seats on the school board. Each seat carries a three-year term.
At a candidate forum at Lindbergh High School last week, the four candidates gave their opinion on maintaining what they call the best school district in the area.
Proposition A is the answer, all four candidates said, responding to several questions regarding the district’s proposed tax-rate increase.
Prop A particularly is needed because of rising costs associated with state and federal mandates as well as the need to attract quality teachers and maintain a variety of courses for students.
Foerstel said, “If we lose, we’ll have to cut down in the classes and that can’t happen … I want to maintain the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. I want to continue to receive the (Missouri) Distinction in Performance. And I want great teachers. All three are directly tied to funding.”
Rudoff said, “We must pass Prop A — $3 million has to come from somewhere … If not, we’ll fall to mediocrity in the classroom. That’s something we have fought very hard for … We have made cuts. We have asked all the questions … The strength of this board is that we are not all clones of each other.”
Agreeing, Cooper said, “(Cutting from the classroom) is not a position the board wants to be in, and I don’t think it’s a position the community wants to be in … When you look at value of the homes in the Lindbergh School District, they’re generally very well valued compared to surrounding communities. In fact, (my) subdivision … is actually split between two districts and it’s amazing the difference of what almost a virtually identical house will bring in Lindbergh district and the neighboring district. That’s something we want to make sure to continue and take care of.”
Wesselschmidt said, “We will only take what we need … If we didn’t need it, we wouldn’t ask for it. This is an educational best buy. We strive hard to get a good value for your tax dollar.”
And none of the candidates want to use any more reserve money to plug the growing gap in expenditures and revenues. The district has spent roughly $2.2 million in reserves the past two years and needs to save that fund for emergencies and to maintain cash flow to avoid borrowing, they said.
“We have a school district immediately east of here that is forced with borrowing every fall to meet operational needs and then pay interest on the money borrowed,” Rudoff said. “That is the absolute worst expenditure of a school district’s money … School districts get hit with unexpected costs in capital improvement projects, such as unexpected asbestos … Plus, that reserve is making money on interest. Some years it’s been as high as $1 million. That saved taxpayers 10 cents on the tax rate.”
Foerstel said, “We have to save our reserves to keep our bond rating high so we can maintain low interest rates … We could use a little bit of our reserves, maybe, but if (Prop A) fails, it will affect every student one way or another.”
Wesselschmidt and Cooper cited the same reasons for maintaining the reserves, but said the district won’t need to spend down the reserves further anyway.
“We have to make sure Prop A passes, but we would be a little remiss if we didn’t have it in the back of our mind, so we know we would have to cut closer to the classroom,” Wesselschmidt said. “But we know we’ll be successful on April 5.”
“We do believe we’ll be successful April 5,” Cooper said. “We believe the community will come out and support the Lindbergh district as they have in the past.”
Lastly, all candidates said retaining high quality teachers was a top priority and another justification for Proposition A.
Cooper said, “We have to be competitive. We can’t afford to lose good teachers …”
Foerstel said, “Teachers are the backbone of the schools … I’d like to keep (salaries and benefits) as high as we can — as high as they are or even better.”
Rudoff said, “Salaries and benefits are off the table as far as Prop A is concerned. It’s not an item for cutting. We’re locked into the contract … And you can’t get a first-rate education with second-rate pay.”
Wesselschmidt said, “I would just echo all their comments. They took all my good lines … I would just add that we don’t try to pay at the top (for county teachers’ salaries), nor do we try to be at the bottom. We just try to be in the middle where we can be competitive and attract and retain quality teachers.”