Projected ’05 ending balances not as much as Mehlville budget committee had hoped

By Alyson E. Raletz

Budget Development Committee members suggested few changes to the Mehlville School District’s proposed fiscal 2005 budget that will leave end-of-the-year operating balances at 3.45 percent — not as much as committee members had hoped.

For several weeks, the administratively appointed committee has been reviewing expenditure projections, revenue estimates and cuts made to district staff, programs and resources — all to ensure end-of-the-year balances are above 3 percent so that the district can avoid being placed on the state’s financially distressed list.

With a 3.45 percent end-of-the-year balance presented to the committee by Assistant Superintendent of Finance Randy Charles, the committee barely made its goal — which was surprising to Bernard Middle School Principal Michele Condon.

“The end-of-the-year balances were not as high as I thought they would be,” Condon told committee members during their April 26 meeting.

This year, the district wouldn’t have been able to eat unexpected withholdings and budget cuts if it hadn’t originally been formulated for a 6 percent end-of-the-year balance, Blades Elementary Principal Connie Lohse told Charles.

For the fiscal 2006 budget, she said, “We really need to shoot for a 5 or 6 percent balance again.”

End-of-the-year operating balances for the 2004-2005 school year are predicted to total $2,692,568, down from current projections for the 2003-2004 school year of $2,828,016 — a projected 3.49 percent end-of-the-year balance for fiscal 2004.

Actual end-of-the-year balances for fiscal 2003 were $6,000,129 — 7.87 percent.

Total revenue projections for the entire fiscal 2005 budget are $91,913,379, down from fiscal 2004’s projected revenue of $91,469,545, while the district predicts expenditures for the 2004-2005 school year will come in at $91,564,457, down from fiscal 2003 expenditure projections of $98,891,951.

Charles is scheduled to present a preliminary report on the proposed fiscal 2005 budget to board members during their next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 11, at Mehlville Senior High School, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.

Committee member Mike Levine said he believed Charles had done a good job formulating the budget, but he noted staff members took the biggest hit when cuts needed to be made.

“When I looked at the numbers again and again and again … there were some areas we were forced to have to increase spending in, especially when it came to some medical and life insurance. And other insurance needs were driving our numbers up …,” Levine said. “We did a very good job in finding ways to cut in other areas, but it seems like the sum total of cuts that we made and the things that forced the numbers to go up, was almost netting each other out to 0.

“Not that this was the plan, but to get right back to it, when we had to cut $3 million from the budget, it seemed that that all had to come from teachers’ salaries and administrators’ salaries and classified salaries. Everything else was just a struggle to make sure the two opposing forces netted out to be equal,” he added.

The district cut 61 positions from its staff for the 2004-2005 school year, bringing classrooms closer to Missouri School Improvement Program minimums.

“You’re right,” Charles told Levine. “We said going into this that when 80 percent of your budget is people, salaries and benefits, anytime you’re looking for large reductions, it’s just really unavoidable.”

Charles asked committee members for some direction how to budget any unexpected revenue the district might receive beyond what has been presented to them.

Many members suggested putting more money into textbooks and to increase end-of-the-year balances, but Blades Elementary Teacher Kay Cappos asked that district officials consider permitting more field trips next year.

At least 84 field trips were canceled this year due to an administrative decision to reduce this year’s expenditures. The district will not experience a field trip freeze next year. However, administrators have warned that fewer field trips will be permitted. Field trips cost the district in overtime, non-reimbursable miles by the state and in substitute pay, according to district officials.

“As an elementary teacher, I think it’s a tremendous loss to our kids because I think those are educational experiences …,” Cappos said. “I guess what I would like to see is to come up with a way that we won’t lose money on them. I think our parent groups would pay more money for them … I would like it to be so that it doesn’t affect the budget one way or another, that that would pay for itself. But I, as a person who has to have a certain amount of money in the bank to feel comfortable, I certainly understand — I could not live at 3.28 (percent) … I would definitely like to get those (end-of-the-year) balances up, but I definitely want field trips back. So to do that, I just say we make them pay for themselves.”

Committee members plan to meet again at 6 p.m. Monday, June 14, in the boardroom of the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road, before a final version of the proposed budget is submitted to the board. Committee members plan to review any last-minute changes to the board before a final recommendation is presented June 29.