Free Mehlville bus service won’t impact recommended 6% fund balance

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville School District will be able to provide free bus transportation for the 2006-2007 school year and still maintain a 6-percent fund balance, according to revised budget projections accepted last week by the Board of Education.

In fact, some previous budget cuts have been restored and additional expenditures have been included with nearly $718,000 still remaining above the administration’s recommendation to maintain a 6-percent fund balance at the end of the coming school year.

Based on initial revenue and expenditure projections and after the defeat of a proposed 97-cent tax-rate increase in February, the administration earlier this year had recommended a target of $4 million in cuts be made for the coming school year.

At one point, the Board of Education had approved cuts totaling $3,497,550, including the decision to begin charging $375 per student for bus transportation for those who live within 3.5 miles of their school.

Charging for transportation was among the recommendations made by task force study groups appointed by Superintendent Tim Ricker to explore expenditure reductions in the event the 97-cent tax-rate increase was not approved by voters.

The tax-rate increase, called Proposition A, was overwhelmingly rejected by district voters in February.

Under the revised 2006-2007 budget projections presented to the Board of Education May 3 by Chief Financial Officer Stephen Keyser, the administration-recommended target for reductions now totals $1.918 million.

In the April 4 election, Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello were the top vote-getters for two seats on the Board of Education, defeating four other challengers, including two incumbents — Bill Schornheuser and Mike Heins — who were seeking their second three-year terms.

On April 19, the board voted 4-3 to reinstate free bus transportation for the 2006-2007 school year with President Ken Leach, Vice President Karl Frank Jr., Diehl and Ocello in favor.

Opposed were Secretary Tom Correnti, Cindy Christopher and Rita Diekemper.

The free bus transportation will differ from the service currently offered as the board voted to adopt a transportation option first presented in February to streamline existing bus routes, which will result in a projected savings of $350,000 — not the $700,000 that would have been saved by charging the $375 fee.

During his presentation, Keyser noted that the projection for additional revenue for the 2006-2007 school year has increased by $867,000 — to $1.34 million from $473,000.

Noting that the initial revenue forecast for the coming school year was presented in January, Keyser said, “It’s unusual for the district to actually start a revenue forecast that early, but because we were looking at the possibility of developing two budgets at that time in terms of whether or not Prop A passed, we started the process about four months earlier, and so the initial revenue forecast at that time was $473,000 in additional revenue.”

As outlined by Keyser, that initial projection included $1.1 million in additional revenue as a result of new construction and $500,000 in additional state funding under the new foundation formula. That additional revenue, however, was offset by anticipated decreases of $177,000 in Prop C sales-tax revenue and $950,000 in the voluntary transfer program.

Under the revised revenue projections presented last week by Keyser, the $1.1 million in additional revenue from new construction remains unchanged, while additional state funding under the new formula has dropped by roughly $10,000 to $490,000.

But as a result of a formula change, Prop C sales-tax revenue is now projected at $100,000 instead of the decrease of $177,000 as originally forecast.

“So we’ve actually done a swing of about $277,000. So that’s good news obviously,” he said.

For the voluntary transfer program, Keyser said he now is projecting a decrease in revenue of $350,000 — as opposed to the original projection of a $950,000 decrease.

That additional $600,000 is a one-time revenue boost from the voluntary transfer program, Keyser said in response to a question from Diekemper.

Other assumptions that have been re-vised include the projected deficit amount from the current school year.

Originally a $2 million deficit was forecast; that deficit now is estimated at $1.2 million. Increases as a result of inflation now are projected at $800,000 instead of $1 million, the chief financial officer said.

Unchanged, however, is an estimated $2 million expenditure for a 2.4-percent increase in classified and administrative salaries.

The revised projections presented by Keyser also restored four elementary physical education/music positions that had been eliminated by the board on March 23 for a savings of $180,000. The revised budget projections also contain $405,000 for four additional elementary physical education/music positions and five contingency teacher posts.

In addition, the revised budget projections include an additional $165,000 for three buses, an additional $135,000 for supplies — a 10-percent increase in the supply budget — and an additional $64,000 for textbooks, bringing projected textbook expenditures to $1 million for 2006-2007.

The revised budget projections for the coming school year include reductions totaling $2,635,842 — $717,842 more than the administration-recommended fund balance of 6 percent — $4,998,905. The board took no action last week on allocating that $717,842.

At one point, Ocello asked Assistant Su-perintendent for Human Resources A.D. McClain about the status of negotiations with the district’s teachers.

McClain replied, “The teachers’ association leaders and I have discussed the wisdom of putting things kind of on hold until some of these other decisions come out, and we know that we’ll have a lot of work to do to expedite where we are because we would have liked to been further. So we’ve had wonderful cooperation with all of us, I think, saying pretty soon we’re going to have definition more clearly on these items and when we do that, we will commit ourselves to the time necessary to pursue discussion issues that are important to the benefit of teachers, which are then important to the benefit of our students’ successes, and then with our two board members who are a part of that process, be able to bring recommendations forth to the board on where we should be relative to the parameters you’ve given us. Things like tonight on where we should limit our budget expenditures.”

Ocello asked, “Is there something specific you need from us that you could continue that process?”

McClain replied that when the board was comfortable, it could act on issues related to the budget, including those items presented by Keyser that evening.

“Then we would have direction to go from this point forward,” he said.

Ricker said, “The other thing I might mention as a part of the process. Giving administration parameters on negotiation issues, i.e., policies, benefits and salary, is appropriate as well in closed session.”

Ocello asked, “So then, what you’re asking us for is to make a decision on these recommendations tonight?”

McClain said, “We would appreciate it very much if you feel you’re able to do that.”

After further discussion, the board voted to accept the revised projections by a 6-0 vote with Leach abstaining.