Mehville panel eyes tax-rate transfer, tax-rate-hike proposals

COMPASS co-chair ‘confident’ board will place transfer on November ballot


A Mehlville School District committee is considering recommending that voters be asked in November to transfer roughly 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of the district’s capital debt-service levy into the operating fund.

Mehlville’s overall tax rate would not increase, but that transfer would remedy recent projections of the district’s operating-fund balance falling below the state-required 3-percent minimum in 2010.

Additionally, the Facilitating Team for the school district’s public-engagement program tentatively has proposed a separate ballot measure in November that would ask voters to approve an operating-fund tax-rate increase of 37 cents per $100 of assessed valuation as the first of four phases of a new master plan incorporating suggestions made at community-engagement sessions.

A 37-cent tax-rate increase would restore Mehlville’s tax rate to its 2006 level as the district’s total tax levy per $100 of assessed valuation would jump to roughly $3.64 from $3.27.

Both options were slated to be discussed Monday night — after the Call went to press — at a community-engagement session as part of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

A 37-cent tax-rate increase for an owner of a $200,000 home would result in an additional cost of $140.60 per year, or $11.71 per month, according to district officials.

As discussed, the 37-cent tax-rate increase would be the first of four elections to fund a proposed master plan. The district also would ask voters in November elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 to maintain the district’s operating levy by waiving an estimated 8-cent tax-rate rollback in each of those years.

With that initial 37-cent tax-rate increase, the district could fund the following services beginning in the 2009-2010 school year: all-day kindergarten, early childhood expansion, English Language Learner teachers, counselors and elementary remedial reading teachers. The additional 37 cents also would allow staff salaries “to become equal to the county average,” according to the district. The increase also would fund improvements in 2009 in technology as the district could update existing computers, implement wireless technology and classroom multimedia technology and add related technology staff and training.

The first phase also calls for full video security, scheduled replacement of district buses, appropriate facilities for all-day kindergarten, modification in early childhood satellite facilities, safety and security improvements, indoor air quality improvements, acoustic improvements, infrastructure improvements and a performing arts center at each high school.

As first reported by the Call, recent financial projections indicate that the school district’s operating-fund balance will dip below the state-required 3-percent minimum by the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

Superintendent Terry Noble previously told the Call that he was taken aback by the newly projected 0.02-percent estimated operating-fund balance at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. That new projection differed significantly from a 2007 projection that the district would have an operating-fund balance of 5.75 percent on June 30, 2010.

But Noble said last week that voter approval to transfer roughly 30 cents from the debt-service levy into the operating fund would fix that projected shortfall.

“We have a 34-cent debt service … We can transfer that 34-cent debt service, most of that, over to operations,” he said. “But that part takes a vote of the people. You refinance your (general-obligation) bond debt and stretch it out and that 34-cent levy needs to be about 3 cents. So now you’ve got about 31 cents that either goes away because you don’t have to have it to make a payment or you ask the voters to allow you to keep it and put it over here in this fund. That’s simple majority because that’s just a levy.”

Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler is “highly confident” that the debt-service transfer proposal will be placed on the November ballot by the school board.

“Obviously, the Board of Education has any final decision,” Fowler said. “Only the Board of Education can place a tax levy on the ballot. But I am very confident that you will see this November a transfer of funds. You will see the board ask the voters for approval of transfer of funds. The school district currently has the tax levy to take care of the problem in (2010) with funding the school district properly. It’s a matter of transferring those funds around. The actual levy is there now. It’s just not in the right funds. We would need voter approval to do this so we could transfer those funds from (2010) on out. And I am highly confident that you will see that on the ballot in November.”

As for the Facilitating Team’s tentative recommendation to seek a 37-cent tax increase to fund the first phase of district improvements suggested through COMPASS, Fowler said that issue will continue to be debated and emphasized that the proposal is only the team’s first draft and likely will be modified. The team will present its final recommendations in June to the school board.

“The 37-cent (tax-rate increase) is still obviously to be debated,” Fowler said. “That is the first draft of a recommendation from the Facilitating Team. It was very clear the other night that the Facilitating Team unanimously agreed on the transfer of funds and they also agreed to restore the tax rate to 2006, which is I believe by 37 cents.”

While district officials and the Facilitating Team are formulating proposals, the final say on the district’s improvement will come from the community through COMPASS, Noble said.

“We just provide the information,” he said. “We’re going to let the community tell us. If they ask for a recommendation, we’d say we worked with the community to put together a long-range master plan. Now how soon it’s implemented depends on the funding of it. We’re going to listen to whatever the community wants on this. If they ask us for our advice on it or thoughts on it, we’ll give it. But I do agree that whatever comes out … this is the community’s plan and their vision for the district. It’s all our vision. It’s just a matter of how soon we’re going to be able to implement it based on which funding packages the community selects.”

Fowler agreed with Noble that a fund transfer will solve the projected operating-fund balance problem at no additional cost to taxpayers.

“The money is there to fix the problem. It’s just a matter of transferring funds. And I am confident that that will be on the ballot in November,” he said. “Either that or the Board of Education would have to make cuts that dig into the very core of educational programs. It takes a simple majority to do that. If that does not happen, you would see serious core cuts in the Mehlville School District. And from a competitive point of view, we would really begin to pull away from other school districts in the wrong direction and not only be-gin to lose some of our best teachers, but have a problem attracting the very best teachers coming out of college.”