VICC program, other financial matters to be considered by Mehlville Board of Education

By Alyson E. Raletz

Three matters related to district finances were scheduled to be considered earlier this week by the Mehlville Board of Education.

Board members were scheduled to meet Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Board members were scheduled to review:

• The district’s future involvement in the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. program, also called the voluntary transfer student program.

• How the district reimburses employees for cellular phone usage and other procedures for employee reimbursement.

• A preliminary version of the district’s fiscal 2005 budget.

A board-appointed committee recommended March 30 that the district decrease its VICC enrollment by 15 percent annually, beginning in the 2005-2006 school year, to prepare for the financial impact of the potential end of the VICC settlement agreement during the 2008-2009 school year or other shortfalls in funding.

For more than six months at Mehlville, the VICC committee, comprised of students, faculty and community members, has been studying the program, which is the result of a 1999 settlement agreement that ended court-ordered desegregation. The committee had considered other options, such as decreasing annual enrollment by 0 percent, 5 percent or 10 percent, but believed the 15-percent option was the most viable for the district and was similar to Mehlville’s natural attrition rate for VICC students.

Despite the recommendation, board members delayed consideration of the program for more than a month because they wanted to obtain more information from VICC officials and other districts before making a decision, which could have resulted in “unintended” consequences.

Because no other area school districts had made decisions regarding their involvement in the VICC program, board member Rita Diekemper said March 30 that a premature decision by Mehlville could “spur reaction” from other districts.

Superintendent Tim Ricker was scheduled to meet with other VICC officials April 30 and planned to report the results of that meeting to board members. Contacted May 6 for comments regarding the VICC meeting and other district-related issues, Ricker declined comment, saying all inquiries had to be made in writing to the district’s school/community relations director, Patrick Wallace.

Diekemper also declined comment, saying she was following Ricker’s “directive” and only would respond to questions from the Call submitted in writing to Wallace.

Board member Bill Schornheuser told the Call he would have liked to have considered the voluntary student transfer program while the VICC committee members were in attendance at the March 30 meeting, but he understood that the board needed to wait until Ricker could meet with the corporation.

“I support the recommendation the committee came up with,” Schornheuser told the Call May 6. “I have not seen any additional information since the last board meeting to lead me to think anything different from that right now.”

The district should have some type of plan to deal with the continuing decrease of VICC students at Mehlville, according to Schornheuser, of which he believes the committee’s recommendation addresses.

“It will be interesting to see what other superintendents are doing …,” he said. “… It was prudent to wait …”

Administrators also were scheduled to present a review of the district’s employee reimbursement procedures to board member’s during Tuesday’s meeting.

During a Board of Education meeting Dec. 15, Vice President Matthew Chellis requested that administrators review cellular phone and travel reimbursement policies.

“It doesn’t have to be done in January, but as soon as it could be looked at in a thoughtful and complete manner, it would be helpful,” Chellis said to Ricker during the Dec. 15 meeting.

The district, which uses Cingular Wireless as its cellular phone provider, supplied 24 cell phones to employees during the 2002-2003 academic year, while also reimbursing three employees who used phones on a non-Cingular Wireless plan, according to information provided to district resident Dan Fowler by Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer.

The cost of the cellular phones totaled $26,474.10.

“The district uses the procedure established under 600.100 of the procedural manual that is correlated to the old district policy manual last revised in November 1996 and replaced with a new policy manual in January 1998,” according to Charles. “There is no policy specifically related to reimbursement for or provision of cell phones in the new policy manual.”

Board members voted to transform Mehlville policies to new Missouri School Board Association policies in 1998.

However, as previously reported, former Superintendent John Cary told board members during a Jan. 5, 1998, special meeting that adopting the MSBA policies would not change the district’s existing policies, but update the policy book to ensure compliance with legal requirements.

Ricker told the Call three weeks ago administrators were considering a recommendation to reinstate the prior cell-phone use policy, but the matter still was being reviewed.

Schornheuser told the Call last week, “There is a need for a (cell-phone) policy,” since one had not been implemented since 1993.

“… The world changes in 10 years and we need to make sure policies in place are prudent for the community and make sure we have things tight enough so we can make sure there are no abuses to that policy,” he said.

He believes it is necessary for the district to provide cell phones for certain district employees.

“I think probably a majority of the board agrees that the administrators and a certain, great number of employees in the district need that instant communication,” he said. “There is just too much that goes on. We really need to make sure the administration is aware of day to day, hour to hour, and minute when certain circumstances come up.”

In instances like the Columbine shootings, he added, “We can’t really depend on communication techniques from the early ’80s and ’90s.”

Board President Cindy Christopher declined to comment on this and any other district-related issues, asking that this newspaper submit its questions in writing.

Vice President Matt Chellis and Secretary Marea Kluth-Hoppe did not return this newspaper’s phone calls.

Board member Tom Correnti also declined to comment, while member Mike Heins left a voice-mail message that he would not grant interviews to the Call and this newspaper will have to “get your information from Patrick Wallace.”

Charles also was scheduled to present a preliminary version of Mehlville’s fiscal 2005 budget to board members. Charles’ last report to the district’s budget advisory panel indicated the end-of-the year balance for fiscal 2005’s operating budget would be at 3.45 percent, including the numerous cuts to personnel, field trips and district resources for fiscal 2004 and fiscal 2005.

Missouri school districts must have end-of-the-year balances of at least 3 percent or risk being placed on the financially distressed list.

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.

Budget committee members, made up of administratively appointed staff and residents, 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.