Lindbergh board eyes revised ’11-’12 budget

Lindbergh projected to end current school year in black

By Mike Anthony

A revised operating budget for the current school year that projects a surplus of $502,543 — $859,716 less than originally anticipated — was scheduled to be considered earlier this week by the Lindbergh Board of Education.

The school board was scheduled to meet Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Board members discussed the proposed revised operating budget for the 2011-2012 school year during a special workshop session Saturday morning.

As proposed, the revised operating budget projects revenues of $61,165,423 with anticipated expenditures of $60,662,880 — a surplus of $502,543.

The district’s original operating budget, approved in June, projected revenues totaling $60,797,763 with anticipated expenditures of $59,435,504 — a surplus of $1,362,259.

Since the 2007-2008 school year, Lindbergh sustained a cumulative loss of revenue totaling $18 million.

Roughly $15.2 million of the $18 million cumulative loss of revenue resulted from a dramatic decrease in the district’s assessed valuation.

The remaining $2.8 million in lost revenue was a result of declining state aid, state sales tax, investment income, transportation reimbursement and phasing out the district’s participation in the voluntary transfer program.

A 65-cent tax-rate increase approved by Lindbergh voters in November 2010 is projected to generate nearly $8.4 million for the current school year. Revenue from Prop L allowed the board to approve a balanced budget for the first time since 2002.

Had Prop L not been approved, 80 additional teaching positions would have had to be eliminated.

Regarding Prop L, Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane told the board Saturday, “The tax increase saved the school district. That’s what’s very important. It actually saved Lindbergh from having to become something entirely different and having almost 80 teachers walk out the door. And then we have to reshuffle all the kids among the existing (teachers). That would have been a disaster and we averted the disaster. And we can’t understate how important that really was.”

Regarding the proposed revised budget for the current school year, the district received $367,660 more in revenue than originally projected, he said.

But Lanane said, “Most of the gains are in what we call self-sustaining programs. The money stays within that program. We don’t want to use additional tax dollars for those programs such as ECE (Early Childhood Education). It pays for all its own operating expenditures other than the investment we have in a director and the building itself.

“But all the day-to-day stuff, all the other people who work there — it pays its own way — and, in fact, this year it’s doing extremely well as you might imagine. Build it and they will come has never been any truer than ECE has been this past year. There’s a waiting list.”

The proposed revised budget anticipates expenditures totaling $859,716 more than originally projected, Lanane said, as a result of increases in salaries and benefits, purchased services, supplies and capital repairs.

A large part of those additional expenditures are the result of increased enrollment, he noted

Though the district is phasing out its participation in the voluntary transfer program, local enrollment is surging. The district’s current enrollment of nearly 6,000 students is the most since the 1981-1982 school year when 6,111 were enrolled.

And that trend will continue, the CFO said.

The largest increased expenditure totals $253,200 in salaries and benefits for six full-time teaching positions as a result of additional enrollment.

District officials are having an increasingly difficult time predicting future enrollment as Lindbergh’s housing stock turns over from seniors to families with young children moving into the district, Lanane said.

“I can tell you the No. 1 factor right now is how easy or how hard it is to get a mortgage. That’s hard to predict on that particular factor because as housing turns over here … it will all depend on whether young people can get mortgages,” he said.

Keeping class sizes at their existing levels has been instrumental in Lindbergh’s academic success, Lanane and school board members said.

“… These expenses could be avoided if we chose not to hire the people, but the cost — and I’m not talking about economic cost — but the cost of not hiring these people is the increased class size you’re going to see throughout the district,” board member Mark Rudoff said. “We can bring on the new students, any new students that come here, but if we don’t add the staff as needed, then what we’re going to do is we’re going to have class size consistently increase throughout the district.”

Lanane said, “Exactly, exactly. It’s a very simple equation: more kids, more teachers, more cost. Or more kids, same teachers, no costs, but then you’ve got class sizes that are just beyond what anyone can tolerate.

“Again, I’m not the curricular people, but they didn’t get a No. 1 (academic) ranking by having class sizes of 35 and 40 kids in a class …,” he added.

Rudoff later said, “… We did get to where we are for a number of reasons, but holding the line on class size is really one of the critical factors. We’ve talked with the teachers about it. That’s really one of the things we have not moved on and I really think that’s been instrumental. Down the road …”

Lanane interjected, “It’s your greatest challenge.”

Rudoff said, “Going forward, it’s the biggest challenge that we have.”

Next week: Lanane and the board discuss the financial outlook for the 2012-2013 school year.