District Strives to Cut $4.8 Million in Budget
Mehlville School District board members and administrators set a goal to reduce the budget by $4.8 million.
The Mehlville School Board met Wednesday in another budget workshop to address higher costs and reduced state funding, hoping to find $4.8 million in cuts.
The board will work from suggested proposals by Superintendent Terry Noble and Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost in February. Those proposals will include cuts in one-time expenses and program changes, working down from the initial figure.
In previous workshops, the board discussed cuts in the transportation system, salary increase freezes and raised activity fees for students.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board sharpened their pencils after more information was presented by Knobloch and transportation director Diane Wedel.
One proposal would cut $324,000 per year from the budget and lay off 12 drivers by changing the transportation department from a three-tier to a four-tier bus system.
The current three-tier system means the district's schools are on three schedules with different start and end times. A four-tier system would have four different schedules, requiring less drivers with the same number of routes because of the wider time span in between routes.
A more extreme option would eliminate bus service within 2 miles, include a reduction of 24 drivers and save the district $648,000 per year. Approximately 5,000 students districtwide would not receive transportation with this plan. The state requires that transportation be provided to any student outside 3.5 miles of the school.
When board members spoke of eliminating transportation for students, they mandated that a system of crossing guards and faculty supervision would have to be developed.
For teachers, the district is considering freezing annual salary step increases, saving approximately $1.5 million. The halt would affect the district’s 1,200 full-time personnel.
Eliminating annual raises for teachers who stay in the district would save $1 million among its 780 certified teachers, $350,000 among its 400 uncertified teachers and support staff, and $145,000 among administrators.
Knobloch noted that the estimates did not include changes in current staffing levels, such as retirement and teacher fluctuation.
Administrators also suggested changes in funding for sports and other school activities such as band and choir, where the district now spends approximately $1 million in transportation, coaches’ stipends, camps and equipment costs.
The district collects $30,000 in activity fees, charging $30 per student as a one-time fee for sports.
The Prop C contingency plan suggests the athletic fee be raised to $50, with a $100 per student and $200 household cap. Currently, 1,300 students are involved in more than one activity.
Board member Drew Frauenhoffer debated the athletic teams’ need to start self-fundraising.
“There may be more that they need to do for just the general stuff, not these extra things, in terms of the general season,” Frauenhoffer said.
The board will continue discussions into the spring after hearing recommendations from Noble and Knost and receiving numbers from the district’s early retirement incentive plan, as well as finalized state funding. The budget must be passed before July 1 for the 2011-12 school year.
Budget issues arose after the failure of Proposition C, the district’s 88-cent tax increase and when Knobloch predicted that the district would deplete its current reserves by 2013.
Mehlville has a 15 percent reserve balance, according to Knobloch. The district ranks 17th out of 20 county schools, with Clayton having the highest reserves at 44 percent. The lowest is the Hancock School District at 3 percent.
The state mandates that districts keep their reserve balance above 3 percent of operating costs. Otherwise, the district is put on the state’s financial watch list.
If the district spends the same amount of money as it did last year without making any cuts, the reserve balance would fall to 11 percent, according to Knobloch. However, to keep the reserve balance at 14 to 15 percent next year, the district would have to make $4.8 million in cuts.
“It’s easy to balance a budget with a spreadsheet,” Knobloch said. “It’s difficult when you start trying to cut four to five million dollars out of your expenses.”
Board Member Michael Ocello asked Noble and Knost their opinions on the lowest reserve balance in their comfort level.
“I would like to see it at least in double digits, at least 10 percent, that would be my recommendation,” Noble said.
The board will continue to discuss the budget at its Jan. 20 meeting.