Last night the Pattonville School District Board of Education discussed several ways to help balance the budget in the coming years, an issue that is especially pressing during the tough economic times. Among potential changes mentioned to help save money were an operating levy tax increase, staffing efficiencies, different ways of utilizing classroom and building spaces, transportation methods, and redistricting considerations.
To better understand where money goes in the district relating to the potential tax increase, the Board explained that there are two sources of district funding: operating levy and debt service levy. Operating levy funding goes towards every day expenses like salaries, books, and classroom materials. Mickey Schoonover, Pattonville Director of School and Community Relations, also said that operating levy funding could be used “to repair or replace items like roofs and windows and HVAC, but often those items are too costly for the operating budget and would negatively impact our core program for educating students.”
On the other hand, debt service levy funding goes towards building improvements and facility updates, like the recently completed new football stadium. “The debt service levy is what is used to pay off bonds sold to fund those improvements,” Schoonover said.
Schoonover explained, “When a district asks voters to approve a bond issue to fund large and long-term improvement projects, it can be either a tax-increase bond issue, meaning the debt service levy would have to be increased to pay for bonds sold to finance the new projects, or it could be a no-tax increase bond issue, which means the district can pay off the bonds using its existing debt service levy, without a tax increase.”
The latter (no tax increase) debt levy funding is what was used to build the new stadium. These two levies are separate and legally cannot be mixed or redistributed in any way, which is key to understanding the district’s financial options for the future.
Several Patch readers commented on a and wondered how the district could consider asking for more money through taxes when the at Pattonville High School was just built. This is where the funding distinction comes into play. The stadium and other building improvements are paid for by the debt service levy. The operating levy fund, which could potentially see a proposed tax increase in the future, did not pay for improvements and projects like this.
“We haven’t asked for a tax increase for the operating levy in 20 years, which is really unheard of in other districts,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Fulton. “That’s what we are really blessed on is that if we go for an operating levy increase, we are doing it pro-actively. We are not in crisis mode, which is why it’s so important to be pro-active about something like this.”
Why all of these measures are being considered is because of the projected financial status of the district in the coming years. According to a presentation at the session, it is projected that by 2014-15, the required beginning balance for the school year will supersede the actual beginning balance they have. The option of borrowing money for the district was also considered to help with this discrepancy.
The in Maryland Heights is also a factor in the amount of funding the district could receive in the future. Currently, Harrah’s is appealing a ruling that their business is worth $461 million. Instead, Harrah’s states the value is $30 million. If the value stands and is not overturned, the district will gain $3.6 million in operating levy funding and $600,000 in debt levy funding. If Harrah’s appeal triumphs, the district will lose $1.5 million in operating levy and $200,000 in debt levy.
Many possibilities mentioned above were discussed regarding ways to save costs, but anything at this stage is just preliminary. “We’re not even sure that we will ask for a tax increase or that any one of these ideas will be implemented,” Schoonover said. “These are all just potential options to balance the budget and save money.”
The Board ended the meeting by outlining three stages for the work to come on balancing the budget and where to go from here. Stage 1 is: Recommend plan to improve building use and staffing efficiencies in 2013-14 by the upcoming September Board meeting. Stage 2 is: Administrative and community recommendations to identify and recommend to the Board staffing cost efficiencies. This includes long-term solutions that improve learning, reduce operating costs, and address revenue shortfalls. Stage 3 is: Implement Stage 2 recommendations in 2013-14 and beyond.
The Board also discussed updates and stats on their progress as part of the Missouri School Improvement Plan 5 requirements. Check back with Patch tomorrow for a separate story relating these details.