Mehlville’s finances topic of Dec. 10 COMPASS session

It’s ‘imperative’ for community to attend session, Fowler says

By BURKE WASSON

A recent study shows that the Mehlville School District’s revenues and expenditures both are less than most comparable area school districts.

A complete picture of the district’s finances will be presented at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, during a community-engagement session at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

St. Louis University College of Public Service Associate Dean Bill Rebore is scheduled to discuss the district’s financial condition at the session, which is is part of Mehlville’s public-engagement program, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Rebore, who delivered the presentation last week to the COMPASS Facilitating Team, concluded the following in a revenue summary of the district:

• Property tax is the district’s primary revenue support. While 81 percent of the district’s total revenue comes from local revenue, 58 percent of that local revenue comes from property taxes.

• The majority of property within the district is residential.

• The district has “a relatively low” tax levy — $3.2731 per $100 of assessed valuation — compared to other districts with “similar residential valuation.” The report shows that Mehlville’s tax rate was the 18th lowest of 23 school districts in the county in the 2006-2007 school year. One cent per $100 of assessed valuation would generate $185,808 in revenue for the district, according to Rebore’s presentation.

The study also shows that 1 cent per $100 of assessed value on $200,000 home results in that homeowner paying $3.80 to the district.

On the expense side, Rebore concluded:

• The district’s expenses per average daily attendance of pupils — $7,210.30 — is low for the county. Lindbergh, Rockwood, Webster, Kirkwood, Ladue and Clayton all have higher ADA spending.

• The district’s starting teacher salary is low for the county. The district’s current starting teacher salary is $33,853.

Mehlville’s 2006-2007 starting teacher salary of $32,525 ranked 21st of 23 school districts in the county.

While the district’s starting teacher salary is low in St. Louis County, Rebore said that the district spent “a very typical” 71 percent of its 2006-2007 budget on salaries and benefits.

The district spent 12 percent on debt, 10 percent on supplies, 5 percent on services and 2 percent on capital.

Out of the district’s 71 percent expended on salaries and benefits, the district spent 45 percent on teacher salaries, 18 percent on support-staff pay, 5 percent on administrative salaries and 3 percent on others.

The report also shows that 89 percent of the district’s total expenditures in the 2006-2007 school year were classified as “fixed.” These required expenses include 70.88 percent on salary and benefits; 11.59 percent on debt; 4.22 percent on supplies including testing, food and utilities; 2.22 percent on services like small utilities, insurance and copying; and 0.05 percent on staff development.

That left the district with 11.04 percent of “discretionary” spending in the 2006-2007 school year. This includes expenses on textbooks, instructional materials, repairs and capital.

Rebore also concluded that the district’s fund balance in the 2006-2007 school year was not sufficient to met Mehlville’s cash-flow needs. The district reported a 14.94-percent fund balance at the end of the 2006-2007 school year.

By comparison, the school districts of Lindbergh reported a 41.65-percent fund balance, Kirkwood reported a 39.11-percent fund balance and Rockwood reported a 27.19-percent fund balance.

Mehlville’s 14.94-percent fund balance was slightly higher than the Webster Groves School District’s fund balance of 14.53 percent.

The study shows that the district borrowed $6.25 million in its last fiscal year to meet cash-flow requirements.

Rebore and Mehlville Chief Financial Officer Brent Bell have calculated that if the district wanted to eliminate borrowing funds, it would have to raise its fund balance from 14.94 percent to 23 percent.

In the 2006-2007 school year, the district had a total debt of $103,342,806 — $21,801,579 in general-obligation bonded debt, $81,875,000 in certificates of participation and $2,666,227 in other debt.

Rebore said the district is scheduled to have retire all of its debt by roughly 2013.

Dan Fowler, co-chair of the COMPASS Facilitating Team, said he also would like to see the district improve attendance at its community-engagement sessions. District officials report that the Nov. 5 COMPASS session on staffing attracted 141 participants — 76 staff employees, 54 parents and 11 non-parent district residents.

Fowler said while he is encouraged at the number of district staff members attending COMPASS sessions, the district needs to a better job of attracting the entire community to the sessions.

“I think we need to do a better job of getting two different segments out from our community,” Fowler said. “We need to see our critics there and we encourage them to get there and to listen. I would prefer to get their opinion on issues dealing with finances now than after the fact.

“No. 2, we need to do a better job of getting parents and the general public to these meetings. And the best way to get parents to our meetings is through our building principals. And we have highly encouraged our principals to work with their parent-group organizations to get more parents to these meetings. And I believe that they are going to follow through on that.”

With the Nov. 5 COMPASS session’s attendance of 54 parents — or three parents per each of the district’s 18 school buildings — Fowler said it is crucial that the district improve its parent attendance if COMPASS is to accurately represent the community.

“We have communicated very strongly with our principals that they need to get more parents from their individual buildings to these meetings,” Fowler said. “It is imperative that we hear from our parents. It is also imperative that we hear from critics. It is imperative that we hear from parochial parents and senior citizens. We want a microcosm of this community at these meetings.

“And finances is a hot topic. So if you like the way the Mehlville School District is being run with finances or you don’t like the way it’s being run with finances, this is the meeting you need to attend.”