South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Questions raised whether board would have OK’d 5.3-percent raise

Gotsch hopes process is clearer next year because ‘I feel very deceived’ on increases

After the Lindbergh Board of Education recently voted to correct an error and grant higher 2014-2015 salary increases for two employee groups, some members are questioning how it happened and whether the raises would have been approved if the board had known the true numbers beforehand.

All the statements and documentation presented to the board at a budget workshop in May and two subsequent board meetings talked about an across-the-board 3.3-percent salary increase, which is what board members believed they were granting to teachers and staff.

However, the numbers in the budget actually provided for an average 5.3-percent increase, not 3.3 percent, since the budget presented by administrators had not factored in the “pool” money saved by teacher retirements as it traditionally has.

Board members discovered the higher increases when an error was made calculating paychecks, which gave the lower 3.3-percent increase to administrators and Early Childhood Education staff, a miscalculation of roughly $90,000 that Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett acknowledged and apologized for.

During an Aug. 19 special board workshop to discuss the higher salary increase and the subsequent miscalculation, Treasurer Kara Gotsch, who is an attorney, wondered if the board had even actually approved the 5.3-percent increase, since they all believed they were passing a lower increase.

“I’m not saying (Lindbergh administrators) were being deceptive, but to me it is very, very deceptive — it is ‘hide the ball,'” Gotsch said, referring to a legal term for withholding evidence unfavorable to your side in a trial. “Because I do not believe we were presented with a 5.3 percent (raise).

“After we just asked our community to vote so we had money to put up schools and so we had room for our children, I know I could not have in good faith voted for 5.3 percent. I’m not saying our teachers don’t deserve it — our teachers are the best in the state, I understand that. However, we have tight money.”

On Aug. 12, the board approved granting the higher salary increases to those administrators and ECE staff initially left out of the higher pay raise 5-2, with Gotsch and board member Kate Holloway dissenting.

Since the board had already granted retroactive approval of the higher raises, at the special workshop on the issue some of the members focused on how to change the district’s budgeting process so that the same errors are not made next year. Triplett has already promised that he will not prepare next year’s budget alone, and more eyes will go over it to ensure its accuracy before it goes to the board.

“I hope next year it’s a lot clearer,” Gotsch said. “Because I feel deceived — I feel very much deceived.”

The true numbers of the salary increase “fell through the cracks” for the board because it has not ever dealt with a windfall of new revenue before, board member Vicki Lorenz Englund said.

“Why is this year and this number and this percentage different than any other time I’ve voted on anything in the school board?” she asked. “The reason why it’s different is because we have the words ‘new’ and ‘revenue’ presented to us. There isn’t anywhere on a (Lindbergh) spreadsheet I’ve ever seen where the words ‘new’ and ‘revenue’ come together … Not to say it’s an excuse, but just to clarify.”

Triplett’s miscalculation of the higher raises amounted to an additional cost of $90,000, which the district will make up through its initially projected $77,000 budget surplus on its $64 million budget and another $13,000 it will move from business services accounts when the board adopts a revised budget in December, without cutting anything or affecting the classroom.

“We’ll never be in deficit,” President Kathleen Kienstra said.

The budgeting error was only “a tenth of 1 percent” of Lindbergh’s overall budget, board Secretary Karen Schuster added.

The board in recent years has granted small salary increases to its teachers, but the end of the Gravois Bluffs tax-increment financing, or TIF, district last fall gave Lindbergh a $2.2 million windfall, $1.6 million of which went to fund salary increases this year. Most of the surrounding districts are giving teachers raises of 2 percent to 2.5 percent this year.

Board members emphasized that even with the salary error and the higher raises, the district is financially sound and conservative in budgeting — although Gotsch pointed out that is why she is so concerned about how the board granted a higher percentage salary increase than it intended.

Schuster suggested in the future that the board would have to perform its own budget calculations instead of just reading the administration’s “talking points and executive summary-type things.”

However, Gotsch said none of the board members are qualified to recalculate the budget, which is why they have Triplett.

“I’m not going to recalculate it, but I am going to understand something before I vote on it,” Englund said.

“I read 3.3 (percent), and I assumed my administration would be forthright and transparent enough to tell me 3.3 equals 3.3 and not 5.3,” Gotsch said. “It is what it is. It’s fine. I mean, it’s not fine. But it is what it is. It’s there. And we just have to move forward with it.”

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