If school district’s budget remains flat, $8 million deficit projected for 2015-2016

Fifty-one cent tax-rate hike eliminates $8 million deficit

By Gloria Lloyd

. Read the first article in the series


Mehlville School District officials have long said the district is the “biggest bang for the buck,” but now they are adding that a buck can only be stretched so far.

Chief Financial Officer Marshall Crutcher recently presented the Board of Education with sobering financial projections: If the budget remains flat, the district faces an $8 million deficit for the 2015-2016 school year.

If board members wish to place a tax-rate increase on the April ballot, they would have to decide when they meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road, to consider approval of the district’s new strategic plan. But Superintendent Norm Ridder said he is not recommending that the board pursue a ballot initiative for April.

To eliminate the projected 2015-2016 deficit of $8 million with no cuts, a tax-rate increase of 51 cents per $100 of assessed valuation would be required. To implement the strategic plan, a tax-rate increase of 86 cents per $100 would be needed to offset the projected $13.7 million deficit.

“When you start talking about money, you have to look at it as a business decision, as any company would run,” board member Samantha Stormer, who was elected last year, said during a Jan. 8 board meeting. “Can you keep doing what you’re doing — increase profitability, increase productivity of your employees and everything else — if you’re running on the same money year after year after year? You become stagnant.

“Nobody wants their taxes raised, I get that and I understand that … We need to be very open and honest with our community: This is what you have told us, this is what it’s going to take for us to get there.”

After board members ran through a summary of the district’s finances for the past seven years, they weighed in on more recent decisions like the $450,000 construction of tennis courts and the $6 million William B. Nottelmann Auditorium.

That money had to be spent on facilities since it came from refinancing bond-like certificates from Proposition P.

Two current members of the board ran on a campaign opposing the auditorium, board Secretary Lori Trakas and Katy Eardley.

That money could have funded other capital needs, including athletic turf replacement, and the public knows that and distrusts the board because of it, Eardley said.

“I think as a board we’re going to have a tough sell if we go and ask for money, quite frankly,” she said. “And maybe we can do it, but I don’t think we go into it lightly. I don’t think we want to go into this knowing that we’re going to fail.”

The tennis courts and auditorium were one-time expenses, however, with less of an impact on the budget than the $2.5 million in recurring salary increases the board agreed to last year, Vice President Venki Palamand said. Palamand and Trakas dissented on that 5-2 vote last June, which Trakas cited as key to the district’s current financial troubles.

“It just heaps on the mistrust — you don’t have the money, now you’re going to spend it, now you’re going to have to figure out how to go get it,” she said.

The past can’t be changed, said board member Jean Pretto, who was elected last year, but the district can look to it for lessons before moving on, and so can residents.

“I believe that when they’re faced with letting our students fail or bucking up and stepping up to the plate and increasing their taxes — in a very miniscule way I might add, as long as we don’t ask for the moon and the stars — I think if we’re reasonable and have a plan, I think they’ll go along with it to bolster what we already have and to make our education community stronger,” she said.