Mehlville board eyes 2013-2014 budget

Two budget scenarios to be considered

By Kari Williams

The Mehlville Board of Education will discuss two scenarios when it considers the district’s 2013-2014 budget this week — one with a voluntary two-cent rollback in the residential tax rate, the other a “full roll-up.”

The Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, in the boardroom of the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

During a discussion of the proposed 2013-2014 budget at its last meeting, Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch told the board he needed direction regarding the tax rate because it has “an implication on the revenue line.”

“The budget as presented assumes a normal roll-up under the Hancock Amendment, which gets the residential rate to about $3.74, one cent below the maximum …,” he said.

If adopted by the board when it sets the district’s tax rates in September, the residential tax rate of $3.74 per $100 of assessed valuation would total roughly 13.5 cents more than the current rate, according to Knobloch.

A tax-rate roll-up is a revenue-neutral action, meaning a school district projects to collect the same amount of tax revenue this year as last year under the provisions of the Hancock Amendment. However, some residents will pay the school district more in taxes and some will pay less based on the assessed valuation of their home.

Board member Ron Fedorchak said he is against rolling back the tax rate without knowing what specific items would be cut from the budget.

“We’re going to end up cutting from operations. We’re going to cut from merit pay. We’re going to cut from technology. We’re going to cut from facilities,” he said. “We’re going to cut from the things that we’ve seen massive improvement on since I’ve been on the board.”

Fedorchak, who wants to keep revenue neutral, said as a parent and taxpayer in the district that he does not believe a voluntary rollback is fair.

“I want to know if we’re going to give everybody a cup of coffee back, what’s going to be cut? What do you want to get rid of?” he said.

Board member Elaine Powers said only looking at the coming school year, “a little reduction might make a lot of sense,” but in the context of looking forward, there are “so many variables.” She said she believes the district needs to “stick with keeping our local revenue as steady as we can.”

“If [(he reserve fund) goes up, we deal with that, but there’s so many variables, I don’t want to gamble it away,” Powers said.

Board member Larry Felton said he would love the district to have “three months set aside” in reserves.

“I think it’s the best insurance you can have and I think in the long run, it’s better that we have those funds available than have people go out and interrupt their lives … to make a quick demand,” Felton said.

Board President Mark Stoner said the district has done an “excellent job” of controlling expenses, but believes the funds are the district’s to “use wisely” and he would like to see a one- or two-cent rollback in the residential tax rate.

“I think that the only people in the district that haven’t really benefited in the last couple of years are the people paying the taxes,” he said, “and I would like to give them a modest return and leave a little money on the table for them.”

Stoner also said the district should not “want to be the bankers of the district taxpayers’ money.”

Board Secretary Rich Franz said what is right is for the district “to recognize the folks who pay our bills, i.e. the taxpayers.”

Franz proposed reductions of a two cents on the residential tax rate, two cents on the commercial tax rate and one cent on the personal property tax rate.

“Since a little more than $1 million is only 1 percent of our budget, I think the numbers we’re talking about are imminently doable,” he said. “Now, I know that’s not what everyone likes, but I think it’s doable. That surplus we have is not our money, it’s the taxpayers’ money and they are entitled to that. And so I think it’s only fair that we return some of that …”

Knobloch said the board already has to roll back the commercial tax rate because the district’s commercial assessed valuation increased. The commercial tax rate was $3.58, according to Knobloch, and will be rolled back to $3.29.

A two-cent voluntary rollback in the residential tax rate would reduce local-tax revenue by roughly $200,000. As a result, total revenue for the 2013-2014 school year would be projected at slightly more than $104.8 million, while total expenditures of slightly more than $105.7 million are anticipated.

Stoner, also a member of the district’s Performance Pay Committee, said the budget previously presented to the board, including performance pay, “just doesn’t seem sustainable the way it is.”

“I’ve made those same points in the committee meetings, and even put out the point that as presented to have something like that be sustainable would require a dedicated source of money, which would mean really a taxpayer vote, in my opinion, at that point in time,” he said.

Felton, however, said he is interested in performance pay for teachers.

“I think there’s a place for a certain amount of dollars that reward excellence,” Felton said, “but that’s probably a 1-percent metric that you’re going to arrive at … and so that’s a growing cost.”

Board Vice President Lori Trakas said she has “serious concerns” about district technology plans, specifically referencing the one-to-one open-source pilot program.

“I think that’s a great expense. I think there’s concerns about what happens when the children take the computer home and it gets lost, gets broken, are we to replace it?” she said. “It’s kind of endless, and unfortunately there’s probably going to be people in this district that those computers just disappear. That’s just the fact, and I think that’s going to be a high cost.”

Superintendent Eric Knost said the issues Trakas raised have not occurred so far.

Felton said he is concerned about technology, but from the perspective that parent groups are fundraising for white boards, laptops and other classroom technology pieces.

“These are things we should be doing. We should be furnishing classrooms …,” Felton said. “We have more needs than we know what to do with. The question is how do we prioritize?”