Lindbergh Schools 2011-2012 budget to be focus of board workshop Tuesday

Passage of Prop L will allow Lindbergh to balance budget.

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\”We’re pretty happy that we’re in the position we are now. But by no means are we in any flush kind of way … We’re happy because we’re going to be able to keep Lindbergh Lindbergh.\” – Superintendent Jim Simpson

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Lindbergh Schools 2011-2012 budget will be the focus of a Board of Education workshop next week.

The budget workshop will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, at Crestwood Elementary School, 1020 S. Sappington Road.

Noting Lindbergh would be in dire financial straits if voters had not approved Proposition L last November, Superintendent Jim Simpson told the Call this year’s workshop will be a more pleasant affair than the school board’s fiscal planning sessions in 2009 and 2010.

More than 53 percent of Lindbergh voters approved Prop L, a 65-cent tax-rate increase that will generate an estimated $8.3 million in additional revenue beginning with the 2011-2012 school year. Prop L received 11,872 “yes” votes — 53.69 percent — and 10,239 “no” votes — 46.31 percent.

Prop L will increase Lindbergh’s operational tax rate to $3.40 per $100 of assessed valuation from the current rate of $2.75. The district’s total tax rate will increase to $3.81 per $100 from the current rate of $3.16. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay an additional $247 per year and the owner of a $100,000 home will pay an additional $124 per year.

The Board of Education’s decision last June to place the tax-rate increase before voters came after making $4.7 million in cuts for the 2010-2011 school year and roughly $2 million in cuts for the 2009-2010 school year. For the current school year, 60 positions were eliminated, including 45 teaching positions.

A revised 2010-2011 operating budget approved by the Board of Education in December projects revenues of $53,219,013 with estimated expenditures of $57,254,963 — a deficit of $4,035,950.

The original operating budget, adopted in June, projected revenues of $53,892,275 with estimated expenditures of $57,828,411 — a deficit of $3,936,136.

Revenue from Prop L will allow the board to approve a balanced budget for the coming school year, Simpson said, adding that if the tax-rate increase had not been approved, 80 teaching positions would have had to be eliminated. As a result, class sizes would have increased to the mid-30s from the current size of the mid-20s.

A decline in Lindbergh’s assessed valuation since the 2007-2008 school year resulted in a cumulative loss of $14 million in tax revenue to the district.

While the majority of local taxing districts rolled up their tax rates through the Hancock Amendment to regain lost property-tax revenue, Lindbergh was unable to roll up its tax rate because its rate was set at the state minimum — $2.75.

The passage of Prop L marks the first time Lindbergh will be able to roll up its tax rate should its assessed valuation decrease.

“… Budget is everything now,” Simpson said. “The budget is your blood pressure, really. It’s whether you’re going to be healthy or unhealthy. We are very fortunate in that our community supported us on Prop L — extremely fortunate because there are many communities right now and many school districts that are looking at some very bleak options over the next 24 months. As a matter of fact, the pain and anguish is just about to start because the stimulus money is now gone. The stimulus money is history and so now it’s running without stimulus money propping up the shortfalls.

“… Prop L balanced us, caused us from having to lay those 80 teachers off and gave us a little bit for cost-of-living increases because basically our teachers haven’t had a raise in three years,” he said, noting that while teachers received a 1-percent salary hike for the current school year, that raise did not cover the increased costs of retirement and health insurance.

While the district pays the cost of insurance for employees, premiums for spouse and family coverage increased by 4.5 percent. In addition, teachers’ contributions to the Missouri Public School Retirement System increased to 14 percent of their salary from 13.5 percent. That retirement contribution will increase to 14.5 percent for the coming school year.

“Lindbergh, to maintain the highest test scores in the state as we have this year and to maintain that level of academic excellence, we have to retain and attract the most talented teachers. I mean that goes without saying,” Simpson said. “You don’t win the World Series by not having talented players. You do not get the excellence of education at a level Lindbergh has been fortunate to have without having the staff we have, and we work extremely hard to pick the most talented people …”

While the Prop L revenue will eliminate Lindbergh’s deficit spending, it won’t do much in terms of adding or restoring staff and programs, Simpson stressed.

“We pared down to the most lean state and we’ll have to stay in that state,” he said. “We are in no way growing reoccurring expenses, such as personnel. But we understand being lean and we understand quality and we understand hard work. So we’re pretty happy that we’re in the position we are now. But by no means are we in any flush kind of way … We’re happy because we’re going to be able to keep Lindbergh Lindbergh.

“I feel fortunate. I’m extremely grateful to our community because I’ve talked to my colleagues in many districts and they say: My community won’t do that for us. I’m sure they will not pass a tax increase … It’s a very challenging move to run a measure that increases taxes, but Lindbergh stepped up and we’re very proud of them and we will deliver for them as we always do.”