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

Teacher, class cuts proposed in ’05-’06 Lindbergh budget

The Lindbergh Board of Education last week gave tentative approval to a 2005-2006 budget that eliminates 11 full-time teaching positions, two foreign language classes, a middle school keyboarding class and two teacher aide positions.

“This would be the Winston Churchill budget, I guess, the blood, sweat and tears budget,” Chief Financial Officer Pat Lan-ane told board members at a May 17 budget workshop.

Adults would be charged $3 to attend football and basketball games under the plan, and elementary pupils would be charged a nickel more for milk and 10 cents more for lunch.

Homeowners also will see higher tax bills because state law will allow the school board to increase the district’s operational tax rate on residential property to the state minimum of $2.75 per $100 assessed valuation.

Lindbergh’s proposed 2005-2006 budget calls for at least $680,000 in reserve spending, roughly $1.34 million in budget cuts and about $42,000 in additional revenue from fee increases, based on a presentation by Lanane, who also serves as assistant superintendent for finance.

During the special meeting, the board agreed to vote on Lanane’s budget June 14, asking for only one item to be excluded — a $30 student fee to play sports. Board members will vote on that fee separately, but will handle the rest of the budget as a whole.

At this point, Lanane’s proposed budget is not balanced; revenues are short about $281,000. Several revenues are unknown, however, and Lanane hopes the district will get the money and won’t need another $281,000 in cuts.

For example, the budget does not include revenue from having Safeco Insurance Co. base within district boundaries. The county tax perk generated roughly $919,000 this year, but Lanane warns that the money could be gone anytime.

Safeco rents office space on Watson Road for legal operations. They could leave or deem another location as “legal headquarters,” Lanane said, meaning Lindbergh would lose the money. Plus, revenue from the insurance company has been as low $7,700 in recent years, so Lanane doesn’t want to plan for money he may not receive.

“As far as whether they’re going to continue to have the headquarters in the district, that is the question,” Lanane said. “I’ve talked to people down there, no one really can explain to me exactly what their long-term plan is.”

If that revenue does come in, Lindbergh will use the $680,000 in proposed reserve spending to buy back cut programs, he said, or plug the $281,000 revenue-expenditure gap.

“To the point we don’t use all those reserves and they’re returned back to the budget, I would recommend those are the first source of money we would use to cover any shortfall here that may occur,” Lanane said. “That ($281,000) is one half of 1 percent. I’m not sure if I can even get (project) within one half of 1 percent, so there may not even be a real shortfall here. It may just simply happen because everyone did one half of 1 percent better than they thought they would do.”

Lindbergh also is losing money from the Voluntary Inter-district Choice Corp. program, which allows city residents to attend county schools. The program is in limbo with the courts so the district is phasing out enrollment, meaning revenue from tuition will fall about $425,000 this year, Lanane said. The total loss, however, could be closer to $1 million because the state doesn’t have the money to pay each VICC student’s tuition, Lanane said.

On the higher property taxes, voters in April rejected a measure to increase the property tax rate by 65 cents, but an unusual reassessment scenario could result in an estimated 23-cent tax-rate hike for homeowners, Lanane said.

Property values increased 12 percent on average in Lind-bergh and the high reassessment will force the school district to roll back its tax rate, a requirement of the Hancock Amendment, which caps tax-base growth collected by school districts at 5 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. But Lindbergh’s residential tax rate is set at $2.70, five cents below the legal minimum. Lanane estimates the Hancock Amendment will drive it down 18 cents to $2.52, which will generate the same amount $2.70 had the year before.

But the state allows school districts to increase tax rates without voter approval if they’re below $2.75, the state minimum. By raising the rate to $2.75, Lanane expects to collect roughly $1.2 million more from homeowners than last year. Residents with $100,000 homes, he estimated, would pay an extra $72 annually, depending on their reassessments.

Businesses would not be affected because they have a separate tax rate and weren’t subject to the same high re-assessments.

“One of the opportunities that we will have is to collect those taxes up to the $2.75 level, which will be on residential property,” Lanane said. “According to the state constitution — it’s really not a law — as part of the state constitution, we have the ability to roll up to that amount.”

The district also anticipates increasing revenues from various fees, such as an estimated $20,000 increase from charging a $3 admission to football and basketball games.

“Our students would not be charged if they had a valid ID on them … and also senior citizens would be able to get an activity pass that would allow them in free as well,” he said.

“As an administration recommendation, we decided to just charge for football and basketball primarily because the crowds are larger, and we wanted to get people in to see the other sports,” added Nancy Rathjen, assistant super-intendent for curriculum.

“Whenever you talk about fees, now you’re in the supply-and-demand world,” Lanane said, “and sometimes you can have a consequence that you’re not attending.”

Administrators also suggested a $30 athletic participation charge to generate an estimated $12,000. It’s the only administrative suggestion board members asked to have pulled out of the budget for separate vote.

“I’ll tell you gentlemen, I have a real problem with this one,” board member Katie Wesselschmidt said. “It’s an awful lot of paperwork for a minimal amount of money.”

“I just don’t see why we’re singling out athletes,” board Vice President Kenneth Fey said.

“When you’re talking about band, for instance, that is co-curriculur,” Rathjen said. “Students get a grade for that. We can’t charge (for graded co-curriculurs). Those programs are tied to the classroom so that is a concern.”

In total, Lanane expects collecting around $42,000 from new fees, including the admission and activity fees as well as increased prices to rent district facilities, including the swimming pool under construction at the high school.

“It’s kind of interesting here to note that we talked about during the process here that we’d talk about the fees and and there was a lot of work put into that,” board member Barry Cooper said. “Even if all of these are approved, it’s worth about $42,000. We all knew it was going to be fairly minimal … Unfortunately it’s not yielding a lot of dollars.”

Even with new revenue from increasing the tax rate, instituting new fees and spending some reserve money, Lindbergh still faces budget cuts to the tune of $1.34 million. And the district is capping spending at 99 percent of its budget.

“We are not going to allow anyone to spend all of their budgets,” Lanane said. “They are going to have to end the year with a balance in their account … This will be very much of a discipline issue.”

He said, “Japanese will be eliminated. Latin will be eliminated. Keyboarding at the middle school will be eliminated.”

With those classes gone, four teachers also will be gone. Seven other teaching positions also will be eliminated, so Lindbergh must increase some class sizes slightly.

Lanane also expects to save money through retirements and resignations.

Vicki Oldani, assistant superintendent of special services, resigned to take a job in Florissant. Joe Sartorius, director of special education, resigned to seek a principal’s job at another school district, and Clint Blandford, director of curriculum, is retiring. The district will distribute their responsibilities between two new people, rather than three, and won’t hire another assistant superintendent to replace Oldani. That will save $85,000, Lanane said.

Board members also offered ideas to trim some perks out of the budget.

“What about — I never heard opening breakfasts discussed (as cuts),” said Wes-selschmidt, referring to paid breakfasts with district volunteers and employees.

“It’s a communication tool,” Superinten-dent Jim Sandfort said. “The commentary you get back from the people who are in voluntary leadership roles who give up hundreds and thousands of hours, it’s their one time to find out what’s going on in the school district.”

“I enjoy these celebrations too, but when push comes to shove here, do we have to have cookies at every thing? Do we have to have punch at everything?” Wesselschmidt asked. “If we’re asking kids to give $30 bucks to play football, why wouldn’t we ask their moms to give $10 bucks to eat lunch? I’m not sure that wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“We certainly need to keep our eyes on the budget, but there’s a point here where we become pennywise and pound foolish,” Cooper said. “With the opening-day break-fasts, I think that’s a great tool. It’s my ex-perience in business that there’s certain dollars you have to spend. It’s a great team-building exercise, and I think we get our money’s worth out of that.”

With this year’s budget fresh in mind, the board still is considering another tax-rate increase proposal to take to the voters and appointed Lenz, Wesselschmidt and board member Bob Foerstel as a subcommittee to study possible dates to return the voters.

Foerstel suggested Lindbergh establish a large committee of residents to review district funds.

Lanane noted that a budget committee of residents had been formed before the election that had recommended the district seek a tax-rate increase.

“I fear the people we’re talking to are all on our side,” Foerstel said.

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