Lindbergh Taxpayers Task Force looks to finalize recommendations this week

Task force looks to balance the needs of district, citizens

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of the Lindbergh School District’s Taxpayers Task Force look to finalize their recommendations to benefit taxpayers — particularly those on fixed incomes — but not harming the district financially when they meet today — Dec. 20.

The fifth meeting of the Taxpayers Task Force will take place at 10 a.m. in the district’s Administration Building, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

During a meeting of the task force last week, members began the process of drafting recommendations they plan to share with state legislators locally and during a trip to Jefferson City.

The goal is to draft a “straightforward” document, according to Pat Lanane, Lindbergh assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer.

“… You know, here it is. Very simple, very straightforward. Here’s what we think and here’s what we think ought to be done,” he said at the Dec. 13 meeting. “I think that has some power to it … I hope once something like this comes out, we’ll get a lot of calls saying: ‘Yeah, I agree entirely.’ But don’t call us. Now you need to call — there is a piece for our local boards and they may contact our local elected officials, but they also need to look particularly at Jefferson City and waking up those people to what needs to happen.”

Last week’s meeting attracted six fewer participants than the Dec. 6 meeting of the Taxpayers Task Force, but drew two Board of Education members — Secretary Vic Lenz and Bob Foerstel.

The document being drafted by participants includes four proposed areas — taxpayer concerns, school district concerns, taxpayer and school district shared concerns and recommendations.

Among the tentative taxpayer concerns being discussed are:

• Property-tax assessments and payments have risen faster and higher than personal incomes.

• The tax increases have been particularly harmful to taxpayers on fixed incomes.

• In some cases, individuals may be forced to sell their property to meet current tax bills and escape future bills.

• School-district — as well as other taxing-district — balances should not exceed certain limits.

Participants also discussed the need for taxing entities not to spend excess balances.

Lanane said, “I think you have to demonstrate good fiscal stewardship … Maybe that’s a recommendation that could be made to the board, and I think I would have to say continue to provide a model for fiscal stewardship because I do think it’s kind of catching. If one group is kind of doing all those right things, doing what we’re doing with the bond advance refunding, doing those little things that really don’t have any intrinsic value for us in the way of providing anything, but it’s the right thing to do from a (standpoint) of managing public funds. I think groups need to be encouraged to do that.”

Members of the task force also discussed justifying all expenditures each year, noting that expenditures should not receive automatic approval just because they’ve been included in the budget in the past.

“We do that here. We actually go through our budget …,” Lanane said, noting that the board has little control over some expenditures, specifically citing utilities. “Some of them are real quick, it’s like: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve got to have this. We’ve got to have that.’

“But then we look at things like technology. What did we do last year? What are we going to do this year? It doesn’t necessarily mean we do the same thing, and we look at our reading programs and our No Child Left Behind. We look at those every year. What is needed for the next year versus oh, we’re just going to do the same thing again. Those get very close scrutiny.

“We have one and sometimes two board workshops and we get pretty heavily into: ‘Well, here’s what we’re going to do.’

“And there’s about four areas where the money is really spent. One is salaries, and that’s the big area. And next year will be a year to look at that. We sit down with our employees again. Technology is one, but is a pretty expensive area. Meeting the No Child Left Behind Act — that has become a pretty expensive piece every year … The whole maintenance and facility piece is certainly a fourth one because that’s huge, especially when you’ve got facilities that are 55 years old …

“And it’s kind of one of those things: Shame on you if you’re not doing a certain amount of that work because then later on you come back with some super-mega bond proposal for $100 million,” Lanane said.

Among the school-district concerns under discussion are:

• Property-tax changes that permanently reduce revenue would be particularly damaging to the Lindbergh School District due to its “frozen-finances” status.

• Almost all other county, state and federal revenue sources for the Lindbergh School District are flat or declining.

• The federal and state governments have passed a large number of unfunded or under funded mandates such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

• Property-tax increases could alienate voters — particularly senior citizens — to a point that would negatively impact the district’s ability to provide an adequate education.

Regarding the last draft point, Lanane said, “At some point … there’s a group of people that’s just going to say: ‘We love you Lindbergh, but I can’t say yes.’ And it will be worse than that because if you go and hear some of the rhetoric at some of these other meetings … it gets very inflamed, very emotional and suddenly the picture is: ‘Well, it’s the schools that are killing us.’

“And that is a real concern of ours because this is a community, and if we start that us versus them versus the other, well, it will just be a very different place to live,” he added. “So those are some of the school-district concerns. The board may even add one or two to that after we do the report. I think we would leave this open if they wanted to add some concerns to this …”

Among the taxpayer and school district shared concerns under discussion are:

• Revenue losses to the district could negatively impact the quality of education.

• If the perceived quality of education declines, there could be a negative impact on local property values.

• The current property-tax burden sets up the potential for a community split where the needs of school children are in direct conflict with the financial needs of senior citizens.

• There is a disproportionate amount of local income-tax revenue going outside of the school district due to a state-funding formula that utilizes inaccurate property assessments.

Members of the Taxpayers Task Force will discuss all of the draft concerns as well as recommendations with the goal of finalizing their report when they meet today.