Spend more on students, COMPASS attendees say

Mehlville tax rate 18th lowest of 23 county school districts

By BURKE WASSON

Roughly 200 people who participated last week in a Mehlville School District community-engagement session concluded that the district needs to spend more money on students.

Of 27 tables of participants at the Dec. 10 session, 24 recommended that the school district improve on its average daily attendance, or ADA, expense of $7,210.30 for pupils.

By comparison, Mehlville’s ADA expense is less than such school districts as Fox at $7,958.16, Rockwood at $7,980.28, Lindbergh at $9,025.84 and Kirkwood at $10,698.89.

The district’s tax rate of $3.2731 per $100 of assessed valuation also is less than those school districts and stood at the 18th lowest among 23 St. Louis County school districts in the 2006-2007 school year.

At the COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — session, eight of 27 tables concluded that the district should raise ADA spending from $7,210.30 to $9,000, which would put Mehlville’s average daily attendance expense at a level above the Fox and Rockwood school districts and nearly equal to the Lindbergh School District’s ADA spending.

Six tables concluded that Mehlville’s ADA spending should be at $8,500, five tables agreed on $8,000, two tables agreed on $10,000, one table agreed on $9,500, one table agreed on $7,500 and one table concluded the district’s ADA spending should be “between $8,000 and $8,500.”

Additionally, one table responded that its participants could “throw a dart” at the level of ADA spending, one table could not reach a consensus and one table’s participants did not believe determining ADA spending is a fair question.

To bring Mehlville’s average daily attendance spending on pupils to the 27 tables’ most popular choice of $9,000, the added cost for a district resident who owns a home valued at $100,000 would be an extra $184.50 in taxes per year to the district, according to district officials.

To raise Mehlville’s ADA spending to the Dec. 10 session’s second-most popular level of $8,500, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay an additional $133 in taxes per year to the district.

During last week’s COMPASS session, St. Louis University College of Public Service Associate Dean Bill Rebore presented the results of a recent study that show both Mehlville’s revenues and expenditures are less than most comparable local school districts.

Regarding revenue:

• 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 for the 2006-2007 school year.

Rebore noted in his presentation that 1 cent of a tax rate per $100 of assessed valuation in the Mehlville School District would bring $185,808 in districtwide revenue to the school district.

The study also shows that 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation on a home valued at $200,000 is equal to that homeowner paying $3.80 to the district.

On the expenditure side, Rebore concluded:

• The district’s expenses per average daily attendance of pupils — $7,210.30 — is low for the county.

The school districts of Lindbergh, Rockwood, Webster, Kirkwood, Ladue and Clayton all have higher ADA spending, according to the study.

• The district’s starting teacher salary is low for the county.

The school district’s current starting teacher salary is $33,853. Mehlville’s 2006-2007 starting teacher salary of $32,525 ranked 21st out 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 like 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 meet 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 more than $100 million. Among that debt is more than $21 million in general-obligation bonds, more than $81 million in certificates of participation and just shy of $3 million in other debt.

The district is scheduled to retire its debt by roughly 2013.