Lindbergh Schools slowly emerging from district’s ‘darkest financial period’

Increase in local enrollment strains budget, Lanane says

By Mike Anthony

Lindbergh Schools is emerging from “the darkest financial period” in the district’s history, but recovery will continue to be slow, according to Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane.

Speaking at the annual Board of Education/Lindbergh National Education Association dialogue session last week, Lanane said the district has sustained a cumulative loss of revenue totaling $18 million since the 2007-2008 school year.

“… That’s just devastating. If this were a business, I don’t know that many businesses could withstand that kind of a loss …,” he said at the Jan. 24 meeting.

“Looking back at the records, there’s never been a more down, recession-burdened era. Calling it a recession does it no justice. Recession can be kind of mild … but what we went through was way worse than just a mild recession …,” Lanane said.

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

In response to the loss of revenue, the school board approved roughly $6 million in cuts over two years. For the 2010-2011 school year, 60 positions were eliminated, including 45 teaching positions.

In June 2010, the board voted to place a 65-cent tax-rate increase on the November ballot, and the measure, called Proposition L, was approved by voters. Had Prop L not been approved, 80 additional teaching positions would have had to be eliminated.

Voter approval of Prop L, Lanane said, returned the district’s revenue from property and personal property taxes to roughly the level Lindbergh was receiving for the 2007-2008 school year. The cuts that were made have not been restored.

Furthermore, as 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, Lanane said.

“… Every time a new child who lives here comes into our schools … it’s going to cost us more to educate him than what the state of Missouri is going to pay us …,” he said. “So, in fact, new kids are a net loss. We love to have new kids. It makes our program vibrant. It keeps things moving ahead. But financially, it is a bit of a burden at times …”

Since the 2007-2008 school year, the district’s enrollment has increased by 587 local students, Lanane said. With the loss of transfer students, the net enrollment increase is 210 local students. The loss of transfer students has resulted in a decrease of $1.2 million in revenue for Lindbergh.

But Lanane remains optimistic the district’s assessed valuation will increase with the next reassessment in 2013.

“… I think we are almost through the worst of the worst. I think we have maybe hit the bottom, but the coming back will be very slow … We’d like to see just very (steady) continual growth (in assessed valuation) because then that gives us a funding mechanism without a tax increase …,” he said. “There’s only two possibilities (for additional revenue). One is going back to the prior model of steady, assessed-value growth and the other one would be a tax increase.

“We’ve used that one (a tax-rate increase) to kind of solidify at least what we have, thankfully. And it was wonderful that the public stepped up and did that. But going forward, you’re going to have to be very careful about the use of that, obviously …”