Mehlville OKs ’06-’07 budget with 7-0 vote

By MIKE ANTHONY

A budget for the 2006-2007 school year that projects total expenditures of nearly $97 million with anticipated revenue of more than $98.5 million was adopted last week by the Mehlville Board of Education with a unanimous vote.

The 2006-2007 budget anticipates total expenditures of $96,977,601 with projected revenue of $98,539,140 — a surplus of $1,561,539. Based on an anticipated balance of $13,107,401 for the 2005-2006 school year, a balance of $14,668,940 is projected on June 30, 2007.

After the board adopted the budget June 29, member Rita Diekemper said, “I just want to make a comment that this is a budget that nobody got what they wanted, including our kids, or what they need, and there are parts of this I’m glad that we were able to restore. I still believe that transportation should not have been restored because I think that that money could be better used in the classroom for the tutoring program and so forth, and I hope that we continue to look at that. I think that by doing that, we open our district up for additional budget liability with regard to gas prices and also legal liability issues. And so I hope we continue to look at that and I know that we will, but I just wanted to make a comment that I do feel like this is the best budget that we could do with what we have.

“And when people call or comment about cuts or what we did or what we didn’t do, I feel confident in telling people that I think that we were able to do the best that we could with what we have and I hope that other board members feel the same way,” Diekemper said.

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 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 Diekemper.

While the board voted to reinstate free bus transportation to all students for the coming year, it will differ from the service previously offered. The board voted 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 former 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 reinstated June 14, reducing the transportation savings to roughly $250,000.

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

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 former 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, former 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 operating budget deficit for the 2005-2006 school year. Keyser last week presented revised projections to the board, including a forecast of additional operating revenue of $1,604,484. In addition, the initial projected operating deficit of $2 million was revised to $458,188.

Since March, many of the initial cuts have been restored and some of the recommendations of the district’s Long Range Planning Committee have been included in the approved 2006-2007 budget.

For the 2006-2007 school year, operating expenditures of $84,393,534 are projected with anticipated revenue of $84,508,912 — a surplus of $115,378.

An operating fund balance of $5,840,905 — including food service, activities and athletics — was anticipated on June 30, 2006. After transferring $150,000 to the capital projects fund, an operating fund balance of $5,806,283 — 6.88 percent — is projected on June 30, 2007. The approved budget includes roughly $700,000 over that 6-percent balance that remains undesignated.

Under state law, a school district is required to maintain a 3-percent balance in its operating fund — a combination of the general fund and the teachers’ fund — or be considered a “distressed” district.

When the 2005-2006 budget was adopted in June 2005, an operating fund balance of $3,457,736 — 4.16 percent — was projected. Current projections — including food service, activities and athletics — place the 2005-2006 operating fund balance at $5,840,905 — 7.01 percent.