The Board of Education of the Ladue School District voted unanimously on November 28, 2012 to put a $.49 operating tax levy increase request on the April 3, 2012 ballot. The request, to be called Proposition 1, is aimed at offsetting at least some of the 9 percent decline in revenue the district has experienced over the last several years due primarily to reductions in property assessments.
The district has already cut approximately $7 million dollars in expenditures – equivalent to approximately 14 percent of its current annual expenditures – over the last four years. Without an operating tax increase, the district will need to cut approximately $2.5 million more to balance the district’s budget for the 2012-13 school year – bringing expenditure cuts to a total equivalent of 19 percent of the district’s current expenditures.
Increasing costs beyond the district’s control offset many of these reductions each year. For instance, increases in expenditures for utilities, insurance, purchased services, supplies, state mandated retirement contributions and contracted building maintenance are either partially or totally beyond the district’s control.
Without further expenditure reductions, or an operating tax increase to help replace lost revenue, the district is projected to have a negative unrestricted fund balance of over $5.23 million by the 2015-16 school year. The Ladue School District, traditionally one of the most high-achieving and financially stable public schools in the area, will likely lose ground on several fronts without additional funding.
In 2011, the district’s per pupil expenditure, as reported to the State of Missouri, was $13,000: $5,065 less per student than Clayton School District; and also lower than Brentwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights and Pattonville School Districts. In fact, the district’s per pupil expenditure was closer to those of University City, Kirkwood and Normandy School District’s than any of the four districts spending more per pupil than Ladue Schools.
Similarly, for many years the district was able to consistently maintain one of the top three positions in teacher salaries in the area, allowing the district to successfully recruit top educators. However, in 2010-11 Ladue Schools trailed behind Clayton, Kirkwood and Pattonville School Districts, and anticipates falling even lower in the ranking without any additional revenue coming in to the district.
Additionally, without an increase in revenue, the district is concerned about losing its AAA Standard & Poor’s rating which is taken into consideration when financial institutions set interest rates for bond debt. “We could go from being one of 68 school districts in the country with a AAA rating to having a negative fund balance over the next four years,” states Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Dr. Jason Buckner. “Unfortunately, what was once hard to imagine is starting to seem possible.”
The district is currently developing two budget scenarios to be presented to the Board of Education in January. One outlines the allocation of expenditures if Proposition 1 passes and is not anticipated to include significant additional cuts. The other outlines expenditures if Proposition 1 does not pass and is anticipated to reflect approximately $2.5 million in additional reductions to be made to balance the 2012-13 budget.
“The last time we announced budget reductions to the community, we had over two hundred people at our Board meeting and parents were demanding we put the tax increase question to a vote immediately,” explains Superintendent Dr. Marsha Chappelow. “We have managed our money well. In fact, our expenditures have increased less over the past six years than nearly all districts in the county. We wouldn’t be asking our community for more help in these tough economic times if it wasn’t necessary to maintain the district’s current status.”
Information was provided by the communications department of the Ladue School District.