Lindbergh board OKs budget with 3.3-percent pay increase

Pay hike ‘first healthy raise’ in six years, Simpson says

By Mike Anthony

A 2014-2015 operating budget that includes a 3.3-percent salary increase for all employees was approved last week by the Lindbergh Board of Education.

Board members voted 5-0 June 10 to approve a budget that projects expenditures of $64,077,838 with anticipated revenues of $64,154,866 — a surplus of $77,028.

Board member Kate Holloway noted she had been unable to attend the board’s May 10 budget workshop and abstained. Board Treasurer Kara Gotsch was absent.

For the 2014-2015 school year, expenditures total $1,682,729 more than the district’s final 2013-2014 budget, while revenues total $112,554 more than the final 2013-2014 budget.

Besides a 3.3-percent salary increase for employees, medical and dental expenses are budgeted for a 4-percent and a 9-percent increase, respectively, when they come up for renewal in January.

Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett noted the board had discussed the proposed budget in great detail during last month’s workshop.

“… It is the board’s directive, and we do it every year when we don’t face real difficult times, to have a balanced budget and provide a little bit of a surplus, if possible,” he said at the June 11 meeting, noting the 2014-2015 budget meets that goal.

“We’ve also built in the modest salary increase for staff, working to attract and retain quality educators and staff for working with our kids,” Triplett said. “We also want to maintain existing programs, while continually monitoring those programs for efficiency and effectiveness.

“And the technology piece — we’re also a leader in that area. We want to make sure we can keep the LiNC (Lindbergh INteractive Classroom) program running smoothly. We also want to accommodate students who bring their own devices, and then just do general technology replacements and upgrades as needed. So that’s all built into this budget also.”

The budget includes nine new full-time teachers and three new full-time teacher assistants, increased furniture and equipment expenses and increased transportation costs to accommodate district growth.

In addition, funds have been added for the math curriculum adoption, district safety equipment and instrumental music equipment, according to Triplett.

“… What you won’t see in this budget right now is anything with Prop G,” he said, referring to a $34 million bond issue that voters approved in April to fund the construction of a new elementary school at the site of Dressel School and improvements at Lindbergh High School.

Prop G — for Growth — increased the district’s debt-service levy by 21 cents, to 68.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from 47.3 cents.

Bonds totaling $34,035,000 will be issued by the district in September, Triplett said, with proceeds funding the construction of a 650-student elementary school on the nearly 10-acre Dressel site at 10255 Musick Road. The district closed on the $1.94 million purchase of the property in July 2011.

District officials look to open the new elementary school at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

In addition, $3 million of the bond proceeds will fund some critical needs at Lindbergh High School, including doubling the size of the cafeteria, creating two science classrooms from existing classrooms, converting a record-storage room into two new classrooms, modernizing the library and replacing the wood floor and bleachers in Gymnasium 3.

In his budget message, Triplett noted that the Gravois Bluffs tax-increment financing district, or TIF, was dissolved last September, resulting in additional commercial-tax revenue for the district of $2.2 million.

Some of those funds allowed the district to purchase property adjacent to existing schools for future expansion.

In addition, the district’s operating fund balance increased by more than $1.6 million compared to the previous year.

Superintendent Jim Simpson told the Call he is pleased with the approved budget for the coming school year.

“We’re very happy with that budget,” he said. “It’s a balanced budget, which, as everybody knows, Lindbergh’s a very financially conservative school district, very focused on the dollars. We’ve never done anything other than be good stewards of the money, and so balanced budgets are something that we very much want.”

The superintendent also is pleased with the 3.3-percent salary increase for employees, which he termed “necessary.”

“… It’s been a long time coming. Well, really, for the last six years, Lindbergh has given the lowest raises in the county, just about. We were always on the low side because the recession hurt us so badly,” he said, noting that the district was unable to increase its tax rate to compensate for the drop in assessed valuation.

For the 2010-2011 school year, the Board of Education approved $4.7 million in cuts.

A total of 60 positions were eliminated, including 45 teaching positions. The previous year, the board approved roughly $2 million in cuts.

Proposition L, a 65-cent tax-rate increase approved by voters in November 2010, eliminated Lindbergh’s deficit spending, but did not provide funding to add or restore staff and programs, according to Simpson.

The end of the Gravois Bluffs TIF has provided a real financial boost for the district, he said.

“That’s our first new money in six years that is coming from a tax base of commercial or residential,” Simpson said. “Now Prop L saved us from having to lay off many dozens of teachers and really decimating the Lindbergh district, but it wasn’t new money, it just replaced a big, gaping hole. So the first new money has been the TIF coming off, and we used the majority of that to try to keep our salary schedule competitive with our benchmark districts in St. Louis County.

“And that’s important — that’s extremely important because education is based on talented teachers. There’s no other equation that works … The fundamental, key part of quality education is quality teaching. That means you’re after talent, and that means you’re going to have to attract talent at every job opening and you’re going to have to retain talent because other districts will recognize your talent … They want the same thing and will be trying to lure (Lindbergh teachers). And we have lost teachers. Other districts pay significantly more than Lindbergh, and that’s not in our best interests.

“So 3.3 (percent) is the first healthy raise we’ve seen in six years. So we’re pretty happy to have that in the budget and be balanced …,” Simpson said.