Mehlville Board of Education to consider reinstating bus stops at day-care centers

Frank would like to improve bus service with more stops

By MIKE ANTHONY

Re-establishing bus stops at day-care centers is scheduled to be considered this week by the Mehlville Board of Education.

The Board of Education is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, at the John Cary Early Childhood Center, 3155 Koch Road.

District administrators are recommending the reinstatement of the bus stops at day-care centers, which would cost an estimated $92,259.77, according to information prepared for the Board of Education by Director of Transportation Keith Henry.

Board members voted 4-3 in April to reinstate free bus transportation for the 2006-2007 school year after voting 5-2 in March to charge $375 per student for bus transportation for those who who live within 3.5 miles of their school for an estimated savings of $695,000.

Voting April 19 to reinstate free bus transportation were board President Ken Leach, Vice President Karl Frank Jr., Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello. Opposed were Secretary Tom Correnti, Cindy Christopher and Rita Diekemper.

The board’s March 10 vote to charge $375 for bus transportation for an estimated savings of $695,000 was included in a motion by then-Secretary Mike Heins and seconded by Christopher to cut nearly $2.5 million from the 2006-2007 budget. Besides Heins and Christopher, voting to approve the motion were then-President Diekemper, then-Vice President Bill Schornheuser and Correnti. Opposed were Frank and Leach.

Diehl and Ocello were the top vote-getters for two seats on the board in the April 4 election, defeating four other challengers, including Heins and Schornheuser.

Within minutes after being sworn in April 10, Ocello made a motion to call a special meeting of the board for April 12 “to discuss reinstatement of bus transportation by expensing the cost through the expected budget surplus.”

Ocello’s motion was seconded by Diehl, who also was sworn in that night. After discussion, however, Ocello withdrew his motion and agreed to have the item placed on the agenda for the April 19 meeting when updated revenue projections for the 2006-2007 school year were presented to the board.

While the board voted April 19 to reinstate free bus transportation to all students for the coming year, it will differ from the service currently offered. The board voted to adopt a transportation option first presented in February to streamline existing bus routes, which will result in a projected savings of $350,000.

The savings will be realized by having fewer bus stops, longer walks for students to bus stops and a four-tier bus schedule instead of the current three-tier schedule that also will require a change in starting and dismissal times at some schools. Also eliminated were bus stops at day-care centers, which the board will consider reinstating Wednesday night.

Before the board’s vote April 19 to reinstate free bus transportation, Frank originally had made a motion, seconded by Diehl, to restore bus transportation to 2005-2006 levels.

But after a discussion in which Leach and Ocello expressed their preference for streamlining existing bus routes, the board adopted an amended motion made by Diehl and seconded by Ocello to accept that option.

Not only does Frank still believe that bus transportation should remain at 2005-2006 levels, he would like to see more stops added to those routes.

“In my opinion, free and safe transportation is essential to the success of public education. As with anything else, there are always exceptions, but in my mind, Mehl-ville is not one of them,” he said. “Take a quick walk from Ringer Road to Blades Elementary and tell me how safe a cross that is, yet it is only a half-mile.

“Try sprinting across Telegraph Road at 3 p.m. to get to Oakville Middle School and tell me how safe a cross that is. This is not Webster Groves or Hazelwood, this is Mehlville,” Frank added. “Not only do I want to restore busing and tiers back to ’05-’06 levels, but I would like to review what it would take to add even more stops to the routes.

“This is not the farm. This is not the city in the 1940s. This is Mehlville in 2006. Do we really want to risk the lives and general well-being of our children for less than a quarter of 1 percent of our total budget?” he asked.

Based on initial revenue and expenditure projections and after the defeat of a proposed 97-cent tax-rate increase in February, the administration earlier this year had recommended a target of $4 million in cuts be made for the coming school year.

At one point, the Board of Education had approved cuts totaling $3,497,550, including the decision to begin charging $375 per student for bus transportation for those who live within 3.5 miles of their school.

Charging for transportation was among the recommendations made by task force study groups appointed by Superintendent Tim Ricker to explore expenditure reductions in the event the 97-cent tax-rate increase was not approved by voters. The tax-rate increase, called Proposition A, was overwhelmingly rejected by district voters in February.

In January, Chief Financial Officer Stephen Keyser projected revenue for the 2006-2007 school year would increase by $473,000. In addition, he forecast a $2 million budget deficit for the 2005-2006 school year. During a May 3 budget workshop session, Keyser presented revised projections to the board, including a forecast of additional revenue of $1.34 million — $867,000 more than originally anticipated. In addition, the projected deficit of $2 million was revised to $1.2 million.

The revised projections presented by Keyser May 3 also restored four elementary physical education/music positions that had been eliminated by the board on March 23 for a savings of $180,000. The revised budget projections also contain $405,000 for four additional elementary physical education/music positions and five contingency teacher posts. In addition, the revised budget projections include an additional $165,000 for three buses, an additional $135,000 for supplies — a 10-percent increase in the supply budget — and an additional $64,000 for textbooks, bringing projected textbook expenditures to $1 million for 2006-2007.

Revised recommendations to be presented to the board Wednesday night include adding an additional $100,000 for textbooks and an additional $200,000 for supplies. In addition, administrators are recommending the inclusion of $558,700 in items formulated by the district’s Long Range Planning Committee.

Even including those items, a surplus of $337,699 over the administration-recommended 6-percent balance of $5,222,830 is projected.