Mehlville school board eyes final OK of ’’03-‘’04 budget June 23


Executive Editor

Final approval of a budget for the 2003-2004 school year that tentatively projects expenditures of $94.8 million with anticipated revenue of $91.2 million will be considered Monday, June 23, by the Mehlville Board of Education.

The Board of Education last week discussed a draft of the budget that, based on preliminary revenue and expenditure projections, contemplates total expenditures of $94,866,584 for the 2003-2004 school year with expected revenue of $91,223,947 for a deficit of $3,642,637.

Based on a projected fund balance of $11,453,714 at the end of the current school year, a fund balance of $7,811,077 is anticipated at the end of the 2003-2004 school year.

A projected tax rate for the 2003-2004 school year has not yet been formulated, according to Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer. The district’s current tax rate is $3.961 per $100 of assessed valuation, while the previous year’s rate was $3.942 per $100.

Revenue assumptions for the draft budget include the use of the Consumer Price Index tax-rate adjustment. The CPI tax-rate adjustment, available every two years, allows a board of education to compensate for the loss of buying power because of inflation.

The CPI tax-rate adjustment serves as a cap, limiting the amount of revenue a school district can receive from increases in real estate values due to reassessment to the lesser of 5 percent or the CPI. A school board can raise the tax rate by voting to take the CPI adjustment or it can roll back its tax rate.

During a presentation to the Board of Education April 28, Charles noted that the draft budget includes an increase in funds available for certified and non-certified employees’ salaries that would provide for a salary increase of 3 percent to 4 percent.

Making employees’ salaries more competitive within St. Louis County is a high priority within the 2003-2004 school year budget, he noted.

For the 2003-2004 school year, the draft budget projects salaries for all employees totaling $53,878,819 — $41,879,313 for certified salaries and $11,999,506 for non-certified salaries. The revised 2002-2003 budget projects salaries for all employees totaling $52,882,349 — $41,232,343 for certified salaries and $11,650,006 for non-certified employees.

During an interview with the Call, Su-perintendent John Cary, Board of Edu-cation President Cindy Christopher and Charles agreed the district’s goal is to have Mehlville teachers’ salaries at or near the median of teachers’ salaries in St. Louis County school districts.

But Cary noted that whether that goal can be achieved will depend on the amount of raises given by other school districts.

“… If everybody gives 4, 5, 6 percent like they did last year, then we probably won’t make great gains,” Cary said. “We may slip some. But if some of those districts freeze salaries, which some of them were talking about at the time, well, I think we’re certainly going to be at a higher rate than that and we can make some gains.”

Christopher agreed that the goal would be to see teachers’ salaries more competitive.

“I think it is the hope of the board and the administration to try to be able to keep our teachers as close to that median — if not the median — as possible, and I think we continue to work toward that every year. That’s been our goal each year,” she said.

The board president also noted that in recent years, Mehlville’s starting salary for teachers has become more competitive in an effort to attract good teachers.

“I think we’ve tried to keep that competitive and worked really hard to do that in the last several years for sure …,” she said.

While administrators and board members have discussed their desire to have a two-year agreement with teachers, that seems unlikely this year given the state’s fiscal condition and likely cuts to education.

Of having a two-year agreement with teachers, Cary said, “… This is probably not the year to do that as far as a financial package for Mehlville. We don’t carry the types of balances as some districts that do that (have multi-year pacts), so if they get surprised in their revenues next year, they’ve got a backup plan. So I really don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think there’s some other non-monetary issues that we’ll be able to look at and agree to on more of a multiple-year plan … But as far as straight salary, I doubt if this would be the year to do that.”

Christopher said, ” I don’t think anybody of either (negotiating) team is interested in the financial end of that for a multi-year (agreement).”

The only two-year salary agreement in Mehlville’s recent history was adopted after the district received voter approval of the Proposition C sales-tax rollback, Cary noted. “We had pretty well said that we were going to use that to try to get teachers’ salaries to the (county) median, so we knew we would have the money those two years, and we made pretty good gains in getting teachers there,” he said.