Mehlville School District officials planning how Proposition T funds will be divided

Noble wants to find out why 37.77% voted ‘no’ on Prop T

By BURKE WASSON

Now that the Mehlville School District can expect to receive an additional $5.6 million annually in its operating fund thanks to voter approval of Proposition T, district officials are planning how to divide those funds.

Mehlville officials plan to use $3.2 million of the annual $5.6 million in Prop T funds for staff salary adjustments.

The teachers’ salary schedule was frozen for the 2008-2009 school year.

Superintendent Terry Noble said an estimated $1.6 million will be used in the 2009-2010 budget to make up for the district’s budget deficit in its operating fund.

The remaining $800,000 will be used in the 2009-2010 budget to restore cuts in textbooks, supplies and tutoring.

In the Nov. 4 election, Prop T received 31,089 “yes” votes — 62.23 percent — and 18,867 “no” votes — 37.77 percent, according to unofficial totals from the county Board of Election Commissioners.

Prop T will transfer roughly 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund. The measure will generate roughly $5.6 million annually for the operating fund. Proposition T will not increase Mehlville’s overall tax rate, but will extend the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years — to 2029.

The district will restructure its general obligation bonds to reduce its debt-service tax rate from 34 cents to 3 cents. The re-structuring will occur sometime between Jan. 1 and April 1 so the 31-cent tax rate can be transferred into the operating fund.

The transfer was recommended to the school board by the Facilitating Team of the district’s public-engagement program, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

While the COMPASS Facilitating Team had recommended a second ballot measure, the Board of Education decided not to seek voter approval of that proposal — a 37-cent tax-rate increase to help fund a long-range plan that incorporates suggestions from those who participated in the community-engagement sessions — at this time. A telephone survey of 400 district residents had indicated that while 59 percent opposed a 37-cent tax-rate increase, 64.8 percent of those respondents would support the no-tax-rate-increase transfer of 31 cents from the debt-service fund that Prop T would allow.

With those unfulfilled COMPASS recommendations in mind, Noble encourages residents who would like to see the district make further progress to voice their opinions at Board of Education meetings. The board next meets at 7:30 p.m. today — Nov. 20 — at the John Cary Early Childhood Center, 3155 Koch Road.

“Those people who are out there who are supportive of us going sooner than later, they ought to come to a board meeting and address their opinions,” Noble said. “We don’t often hear from that side of the ledger. We usually hear from the other side. It would be good for our board to hear both sides of the issue.”

Noble said he also is interested in learning why 37.77 percent of residents voted “no” on Prop T and added that the district might attempt to find those answers through “some type of a survey.”

“I think one of the things that would be interesting to know is those who did not vote in favor of Prop T, a reason why,” Noble said. “We may kind of already know why. But I think that’s good information to have. It doesn’t mean we would change anybody’s mind, but we certainly want to be responsive to all of our patrons and what their concerns might be.

“The reason why we would want information about the reasons why somebody maybe didn’t vote for Prop T would be so that we as a school district could be responsive to that. It’s not because we are critical of anyone who didn’t vote for it.”

As for the allocation of Prop T funds, Noble said the district’s human resources staff already is working on “comparative data” for every staff position in the district.

The overall goal is to move every district position in an equitable manner toward the county median in compensation.

“I think a priority will be to try to move all positions in an equitable manner closer to the county median and try to address them individually based on competitive data,” Noble said. “So, as an example, the beginning teachers’ salary. If we’re further away from the county median with beginning teachers than say we are with the master’s degree level, then we need to really focus on that part of the salary schedule for teachers. If we’ve got a director on our staff who’s doing a job where that person’s salary is much closer to the county median than say another director who works right alongside them, then we’d try to approach those individually. That’s what we’re going to try to do …”

“We’re already at work gathering comparative data for all staff salaries to come up with a package for next year that will move us closer to the median. Those will be realized in next year’s budget year starting July 1. So we’re working on that now because we start work pretty early on next year’s budget. In fact, we’ll be trying to get some budget projections together now with this new information.”

Prop T funds also could be used for hiring additional staff.

“Sometimes our staff and the board administration recognizes where we may have a shortfall in staffing and a need exists,” Noble said. “So some of those funds could be used for those, whether it’s additional teachers where maybe we have a bubble of a high teacher-student ratio or maybe in a couple departments where we feel like we’re really understaffed.”

Other remaining Prop T funds will be used for stabilizing the district’s 2009-2010 operating budget, which Noble said would have a deficit without Prop T.

“About $1.6 million of (Prop T allocation) is the budget deficit on the operating side,” Noble said. “We had a half-million-(dollar) deficit as you look at the overall budget … So the $2.4 million (of annual Prop T funds not used on staffing) is really about taking care of the budget deficit of about $1.6 million and about another $800,000 to reinstate cuts. These will be in next year’s budget. We’ll reinstate the cuts in textbooks, supplies and tutoring.”

In uncertain economic times, Noble said district officials will be watching its finances closely and is grateful to district voters for allowing debt-service funds to be used for operations.

“There’s so much to consider,” he said. “Schools are being impacted by the economy. We have to keep a close watch on what’s going to happen with reassessment.

“We’ve got to watch to see that because of the economy that we don’t have more delinquent taxes than usual. And we’ll be looking at those figures closely when we start collecting a lot of our local tax revenue in December. So we’ll be watching December’s and January’s collections to see how those compare to last year’s.”