Mehlville School District officials meet with legislators

School funding, extending school calendar among issues discussed

By Kari Williams

State funding issues, extending the school calendar and a court case that could impact enrollment were among topics discussed at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Mehlville School District.

Mehlville administrators and Board of Education members met with a number of local legislators, including Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-Concord; Scott Sifton, D-Affton; and Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay. Also attending the Feb. 17 event at Oakville Elementary School were representatives of County Executive Charlie Dooley’s office, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and County, and others.

Superintendent Eric Knost raised the issue of state funding for education. The difference between the highest and lowest amounts the Mehlville could receive among three scenarios is more than $3.4 million. Knost noted three options for school districts — two legislative options or the Department of Elementary Secondary Education, or DESE, making a decision.

In House Bill 1043, the impact to districts, both positive and negative, is not more than 2 percent either way. One scenario, where Mehlville would lose funding, is Senate Bill 454, which would pro-rate the student adequacy target, or SAT.

Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch said the biggest concern is that without legislative action, DESE will determine how to fund the formula.

“There’s a concern that no matter what they decide there’ll be a lawsuit from one side; who ever gets hurt is going to sue,” Knobloch said, “and so without a legislative fix, it’s always up in the air every year as opposed to knowing how to project what’s going to happen two to three years from now.”

Legislation is the only way to make the funding predictable, as opposed to DESE pro-rating the formula, as it has for the last couple years, according to Knobloch.

“By prorating, it hurts the hold-harmless districts, and if they do it by changing the state adequacy target it hurts the formula districts … You have to know that if you start flipping coins you’re going to hurt somebody and the person who gets hurt is likely to put it through a lawsuit …,” Knobloch said.

However, the concept of the formula was fine, according to Knobloch, so long it was able to stay fully funded.

Fuhr suggested sitting down with Knobloch to discuss Mehlville’s issues with the formula.

“What I would love to do before these bills hit the floor is maybe sit down with you … and let’s go over Mehlville’s budget and how this impacts Mehlville. Let’s throw away all the rest of the districts … narrow that down … so we can truly understand the numbers,” he said.

School calendar

Board member Ron Fedorchak said he would like the district’s calendar to increase to 180 days from the current 174, noting Missouri has the third shortest school year mandated by law.

“Most states are at 180 (days). We’re pushing, we would like to do 180 days in the Mehlville School District. It’d be a heck of a lot easier if that was the law in the state of Missouri,” he said.

However, Knost said the 174-day minimum is moot because of proposed legislation about a four-day school week and the fact that the district will still seek a 180-day school year.

“So it’s really the 1,044 hours that apply (to Missouri school districts), and you do have districts that are lengthening their day … The only requirement is that you approve a calendar that’s 1,044 hours …,” he said.

Board President Venki Palamand said he would love to see the state require 180 days of instructional time so that it “levels the playing field.”

“Six days may not sound like much, but six days across 13 years is 78 more instructional days,” he said, “and if we can do more instructional days — I think Dr. Knost has said a number of times, the best way to improve education is to have a passionate, dedicated, qualified teacher in front of students — it’s not necessarily fantastic facilities, but if you can have that teacher in there in front of students, you can see real impact …”

Fuhr questioned why Palamand wants state legislation for something that can be done by districts on an individual basis.

“I think the state has to legislate a minimum number of hours … but anything over and above that that you guys want to go to, we give you the authority to do that,” he said. “If you want to go over and above the minimum, why should you come to us to legislate that to every school district in the state? Maybe other school districts can be effective in 174 days.”

Turner v. School District of Clayton

Knost also asked legislators for their thoughts on whether Turner v. Clayton will be resolved this legislative session. Turner v. Clayton involves families who live in the St. Louis Public School District, seeking payment from the Clayton School District, where their students were enrolled and paid tuition before St. Louis Public Schools lost accreditation.

In July, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the favor of the families, citing when students transfer out of a failing school district, the failing district should pay tuition for the student to attend a non-failing school. However, the case was sent back to a lower court.

Lembke said the case is going down the same path it did last session, which is not positive.

“I’m not optimistic on getting the fix … Everything but the kitchen sink is in the bill, and I don’t see it getting through the process,” he said.

Sifton said he shares Lembke’s assessment, stating the bill is too big and is likely to have components to it that could draw a veto.

“The chances of getting a veto override on anything like that, I think are slim,” he said. “So I share your (Lembke’s) cautious pessimism about whether something can get done legislatively.”