Ladue School Board Members Discuss Possible Transportation Cuts & Tax Proposals
A decision on the future of the Westminster Christian Academy campus in Creve Coeur is also coming next month.
Ladue school district officials are considering revamping student bus service, re-aligning grade school and middle school configurations, and eventually asking voters for a property tax hike to combat a projected $3.4 million budget deficit and spiking student enrollment.
District parents can discuss school realignment options with school officials during a town hall session set for 7 p.m. Thur. Jan. 27, and district residents can comment on the district’s budget plans during a second forum scheduled for 7 p.m. Wed., Feb. 23. Both town hall sessions are being held in the cafeteria at Ladue Horton Watkins High School.
In a financial report made available during its Jan. 24 meeting, the Ladue Board of Education said that it “cannot keep pace with rising costs of supplies, services and increasing enrollment (and) significant cuts in expenditures will have to be made.” The board report added that “the district may eventually have to request an increase in the operating tax rate”.
Although Susan Dielmann, district director of communications, said that no tax proposal is currently under review, budget cuts were certainly under consideration by the board during its work session at its administrative center on Conway Road.
The board said it will soon consider a 2011-12 academic year budget that is $4 million to $4.5 million less than its current $50.2 million operating budget. Cuts are necessary, the board said, to reverse a projected $3.4 million deficit and restore needed cash reserves.
During Monday’s session, the board reviewed proposals to restructure the district’s transportation services, possibly beginning in September. Jason L. Buckner, assistant superintendent for business and finance, presented the board with five student busing options which included negotiating a lower-cost contract with current busing provider First Student, launching a district-operated busing service, instituting “pay-to-ride” plans and extending the so-called “walk boundaries, which would make more students ineligible for bus transportation. Projected annual savings for the various plans ranged from $200,000 to $500,000.
The board took no action on the proposals and did not indicate when it would. “We’re still in the research stage,” Buckner said.
However, Buckner told the board that costs would need to be trimmed from the district’s nearly $1.7 million transportation program if the board intends to meet its deficit reduction goals. “This is an area where we need to save,” Buckner said.
Ken Smith, a board director, said the board could consider less drastic incremental changes in the district’s student transportation program while submitting to voters in April, 2012 a proposal to hike the district’s operating tax levy of $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation.
District officials say that the district is being squeezed by a double-whammy of falling property values and increasing student enrollment. The number of enrolled students has grown by 707—or 22 percent—in the last seven years and is projected to continue to rise over the next two to three years before reaching a plateau.
To accommodate that growth and avoid crowded classrooms, the district is considering grade re-alignment options that involve utilization of the Westminster Christian Academy property now owned by the district on Ladue Rd. and scheduled to become available for district use in a couple of years.
The four options now under board consideration are: creation of two middle schools for grades 5-8, creation of a district-wide fifth grade center, development of a single optional school for kindergarten through grade 8, and the addition of an elementary school. The board is expected to make a final decision during its Feb. 14 meeting.