Lindbergh officials hope to make teacher pay more competitive

Teachers to vote this week on new contract with board

By Gloria Lloyd

With their budget for the upcoming school year, Lindbergh Schools officials hope to increase teachers’ salaries so they are more competitive with surrounding districts.

Although negotiations with the Lindbergh National Education Association, or LNEA, were still ongoing, Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett previewed the administration’s preliminary $64 million recommended budget Saturday morning during a Board of Education work session. Administrators propose a 3.3-percent, across-the-board salary increase for teachers and other employees, at a cost of an additional $1.45 million in salary and benefits.

The LNEA was slated to vote on the proposed salary increase and a new teacher contract early this week, and depending on that vote Triplett would bring the salary increase to the board tonight, May 13, Triplett told the Call.

The larger salary increase recommendation this year is made possible by the unexpected $2.2 million in property taxes the district received last fall from the end of the Gravois Bluffs tax-increment financing, or TIF, district.

Overall, officials project a surplus of $77,028 for the upcoming year.

“We’re almost $2.5 million above where we were at this time last year,” Triplett told the board at the workshop.

Lindbergh teacher salaries used to rank in the top third of its benchmark districts — Kirkwood, Mehlville, Parkway, Pattonville, Rockwood and Webster Groves — but since the Great Recession, the district’s salaries have fallen into the bottom third of those districts, which caused some Lindbergh teachers to leave for more competitive districts, Superintendent Jim Simpson said.

Last year, Lindbergh teachers received a 2-percent raise from money freed up from cutting the district’s non-classroom supplies budget. The $61.5 million budget the board approved last summer only had a surplus of $4,679, but with the new Gravois Bluffs property taxes the district approved a revised $61.9 budget last fall with a surplus of more than $2 million.

The actual budget for 2013-2014 totaled $62.3 million.

The board agreed that they want to give teachers raises now that they have some extra money in the budget.

Most of Lindbergh’s benchmark districts are giving 2 percent to 2.5 percent in raises this year, board President Kathleen Kienstra said.

“I think it sends a message to the teachers that we are really committed to bringing them back up,” she said.

“Some of the concerns I’ve heard (about the raise) is it is more than current cost of living increases,” board Treasurer Kara Gotsch said. “That being said — they’re behind. They have not received what they should.”

“This isn’t coming off homeowners — this is truly the Gravois Bluffs TIF ending,” Triplett said.

“It’s the first new money we’ve had in six years,” Simpson said.

Triplett will formally present the budget proposal to the board June 11.

One challenge the district continues to face is enrollment growth.

Although district voters just passed Proposition G, a $34 million bond issue to build a new elementary school and make improvements to Lindbergh High School, Prop G has little effect on Lindbergh’s operating budget for next year.

The measure did include a payoff of certificates of participation, or COPs, which frees up $140,000 in the operating budget.

The growth in enrollment will cost the district more in increased staffing, along with more buses, food service and use of facilities and supplies.

The single largest decrease in the proposed budget comes from Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp., or VICC, funding, as the district continues to wind down its participation in the voluntary transfer program from St. Louis Public Schools. It will see $240,000 less in VICC funds than it did this year.

This is the last year Lindbergh will see wide participation in the program, since the district’s voluntary transfer students are almost all seniors, with just two sophomores and one freshman left after this year.

In addition to the new revenue from Gravois Bluffs property taxes, the biggest new commercial contributor to the district will be the Gander Mountain store at Gravois Bluffs that opened last month.

Triplett noted that the new car dealerships along Lindbergh Boulevard are in the Mehlville School District.

Centrum Partners and Angelo, Gordon & Co. sold the site of the former Crestwood mall at auction April 23 for $3.65 million to Chicago developer UrbanStreet Group.

In the short term, the mall’s sale might mean even less in property-tax revenue for the school district from the once-bustling mall, since its assessed value will go down based on the low selling price, Triplett said.