Mehlville board OKs cuts for 2006-2007, establishes fee for bus transportation

Originally Published on: 2006-03-15

By Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

Budget cuts for the 2006-2007 school year totaling nearly $2.5 million, including establishing a fee for bus transportation, were approved Friday night by the Mehlville Board of Education.

The Board of Education voted 5-2 to approve the motion by Secretary Mike Heins to cut $2.463 million from the 2006-2007 budget, including charging $375 per student for bus transportation for those who live within 3.5 miles of their school. About 300 people attended the meeting that was conducted in the Mehlville Senior High School gymnasium.

Besides Heins, voting to approve the motion were President Rita Diekemper, Vice President Bill Schornheuser, Cindy Christopher and Tom Correnti. Opposed were Karl Frank Jr. and Ken Leach. A substitute motion proposed by Frank as an alternative to charging for bus transportation died for lack of a second.

District voters last month overwhelmingly rejected Proposition A, a 97-cent tax-rate increase, and the school board on Friday began to act on recommendations made by task force study groups appointed by Superintendent Tim Ricker to help build the 2006-2007 budget in the event Proposition A did not pass. The task force study groups had recommended such things as charging $375 for bus service, charging a $150 fee for playing a high school sport, charging activity fees for elementary and middle school clubs and eliminating team teaching at the middle schools.

Besides establishing the fee for bus transportation as recommended by the administration, the board acted on several other recommendations by the administration, including eliminating 10 high school teaching positions, reducing 19 custodial positions and cutting 7.3 administrative positions. The reduction in administrative posts includes a custodial supervisor post and the district registrar.

The board also accepted the administration’s recommendation to charge fees for participation in sports and clubs for an anticipated savings of $325,000. Specific fee amounts are scheduled to be presented to the board Thursday, March 23.

The Board of Education is considering a target of $4 million in budget reductions for the 2006-2007 school year. With the action taken last week, roughly $1.537 million in cuts still are needed.

The motion approved by the board tabled the following items that will be determined after employee discussions: employee compensation; a reduction in elementary art, music and physical education posts to state minimums; the elimination of all cafeteria/recess aides except elementary aides to provide teacher planning time; and a reduction in elementary and middle school teaching positions.

The motion also directed the administration to propose a fee structure to cover the costs associated with the district’s swimming pool for an savings of $125,000.

In his substitute motion, Frank proposed the following as an alternative to charging for bus transportation:

• Stop the rate of reduction of desegregation enrollment to allow for additional revenue of $700,000 to $950,000 a year.

• Eliminate one principal at both high schools, leaving a total of eight.

• Begin floating assistant principals between elementary schools and eliminating administrative staff accordingly.

• Eliminate all out-of-state travel except what is explicitly approved by the Board of Education on a case-by-case basis.

• Time permitting, reduce administrative salaries by 10 percent and freeze those administrative salaries the board cannot legally reduce.

Frank cited two reasons why he would vote against charging for bus transportation — safety and the financial strain the fee would place on some families.

“I believe I have valid reasons to be concerned about the traffic safety issue connected to the proposal to charge parents for bus service. While I know many parents can afford to pay for it, there are others who cannot,” he said.

He later said, “Reason two that I am against the administration-recommended bus cuts is the financial strain that this puts on our average family and the hostile community we continue to propagate. It is my guess that the 6,700 yes votes on Prop A were mostly from our parents. Even if there were 2,500 parents who voted no that we subsequently convinced to vote yes for a swing of 5,000 votes, we would still have lost the tax levy. Therefore, cutting bus routes to encourage yes votes on a future levy will ultimately fail … To continue like this is to punish our base — our parents, the people who support us rain or shine. Instead of working to fix our credibility issues and the real causes behind the failure of Proposition A, we are further contributing to the hostile community that we have created over the last three to four years.”

Before the Proposition A election, Frank said he believed the recommendations by the task force study groups would be perceived as threats by the community. He reiterated those comments Friday, saying, “… The cuts that were threatened during Proposition A were not board sanctioned, and I had made it very clear that I believed they were the result of a renegade administration working in an environment of no official board oversight. I refuse to sit here and follow through with threats that were made during an election that were based on a false premise …”

Diekemper later said the cuts should come as a surprise to no one, given the district’s financial picture.

“We are in a very serious situation, and I have been talking about this for at least the last three years and I’m glad the people are here to hear this because probably a year ago, we had 10 people at our board meeting,” she said. “… This is the end part of a very long process that a lot of us have been through over the course of the last three to four years when the state started reducing our revenues. We could see when the committee for desegregation determined that we needed to start phasing that program out because the funding was going away. These have all been things that have been talked about and discussed for a very long time.

She later said, “… We have made efforts in countless ways, time away from our families, to go out and try to communicate this with people because we understood how important this was. And we tried to do it in a positive way without throwing stones at people and without blaming people within our community. And I’m sure that we can do better with that. I’m glad that people are here this evening to hear what we are discussing. But like I said, none of this is new information, and we’ve known about this. We’ve been planning for it. That’s why we had Prop A. This was ‘Plan B.’ Prop A was ‘Plan A’ and that would have been great because it would have made us the school district that we envision as the school board and the Long Range Planning Committee, that we envisioned, that we could have and we could deserve for the children in our community. But ‘Plan A’ didn’t work. So now we’re on to ‘Plan B’ and this is part of ‘Plan B’ …”