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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Obama's War On The Secret Ballot - Monday, August 29, 2011 
By Ken Blackwell and Clint Bolick

The Obama Administration has fired its opening salvo against a cornerstone of democracy: the right to secret ballot.

Last fall, voters in four states voted overwhelmingly to amend their constitutions protect the right of workers to vote by secret ballot in deciding whether or not to form unions. That right has been enshrined in federal law for 75 years but is threatened by bills pending in Congress.

Nonetheless, the Obama National Labor Relations Board has filed a lawsuit against Arizona seeking to halt its protection of the right to secret ballot. Federal law governs labor relations, the NLRB asserts, and states cannot provide greater security for worker rights.

Why is the Obama Administration taking such a profoundly anti-democratic position? The answer is simple: it’s pay-off time for the massive labor union support Barack Obama received in the 2008 election.

Private-sector unionization has been dwindling for a long time. To reverse that, unions pushed a “card-check” system that would replace secret-ballot union-recognition elections with a system by which unions are automatically created once 50 percent of employees in a workplace sign cards requesting them. The card-check system is an open invitation to intimidation by both unions and employers. Only in the privacy of the ballot booth can workers express their true views.

The card-check legislation failed in the last Congress, but the NLRB may try to impose it through bureaucratic mandate. The threat from our nation’s capitol led the Goldwater Institute to draft a model state constitutional amendment to protect the right to secret ballot, and inspired activists mobilized to enact amendments last fall in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.

With support from liberals and conservatives, union members and non-members alike, the measures passed overwhelmingly in all four states, averaging over 70 percent of the vote and sweeping 153 out of 154 counties. In the real world, that amounts to a popular tsunami. In politics, it’s called a serious mandate.

NLRB will try to overturn the mandate through sheer force of federal law. But the agency will face a heck of a fight. The right to secret ballot is recognized under the federal constitution. States are free to give even greater protection to individual rights. And of course the decision whether to organize a labor union affects freedom of association, which is protected by both the federal and state constitutions.

A key consideration for courts in deciding if federal law “pre-empts” state laws is whether the conduct is so “deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility” that state autonomy should be respected. It is hard to imagine anything more deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility than the right to secret ballot. Further, the state protections do not significantly interfere with federal law, which has vigilantly safeguarded the right to secret ballot until the current administration came to town.

Indeed, the Supreme Court last spring upheld Arizona’s employer sanction law, even though Congress has express constitutional authority to regulate immigration, emphasizing it would not lightly set aside state sovereignty. In another recent case involving a clash between federal and state law, the Court declared that federalism “secures the ability of states to respond, through the enactment of positive law, to the initiative of those who seek a voice without having to rely solely upon the political processes that control a remote central power.” That is exactly what Save Our Secret Ballot represents.

It’s clear from last November’s results that mainstream Americans care deeply about the right to secret ballot. Similar propositions will appear on the 2012 ballot in as many as six other states.

What clear-thinking politician wants to stand against the right to secret ballot? But so long as the NLRB persists in its efforts to overturn popularly enacted protections of the right to secret ballot, that is exactly where Obama stands. It is not too late to correct that profound error.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dooley Wants Property Tax Increase to Unfreeze County Pay

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Saturday, August 27, 2011 

CLAYTON • St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley said Friday that he wanted to increase property taxes, a move he said would offset a drop in revenue while providing a raise for county employees.

Dooley said that without a tax increase, he would be forced to lay off county employees next year.

Dooley's proposal would need the approval of the County Council, but its chairman, Steve Stenger, said Dooley's idea was a nonstarter. Five other members of the seven-member council said they also opposed a tax increase.

Stenger, like Dooley a Democrat, said the county already had enough money in reserves to cover the raises.

He also asserted that the executive tried to use County Police Chief Tim Fitch to force the issue on the council.

Dooley said county tax revenue was on course to drop $10 million this year.

"We cannot afford to lose $10 million with costs going up and expenses going up," he said.

He called for a 2.3-cent property tax increase that would generate $8.6 million over the next two years. The county's current rate is 52.3 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation.

In 2012, about $5 million of that sum would cover a 2.5 percent pay increase for county employees, who have not had a raise in more than three years.

An additional $1.4 million would cover an increase in employees' health insurance premiums, and $800,000 would pay for increases in their retirement fund. The balance would cover miscellaneous "cost increases."

Dooley said: "This adjustment of the property tax rate will allow us to do some things: Fix our budget structurally over the next two to three years and give a modest adjustment (raise) for our employees. If we don't do that (raise taxes), there will be significant layoffs."

Dooley also said failing to raise taxes would lower county reserves below the 10 percent threshold needed for a Triple AAA bond rating.

The proposed tax increase would cost the owner of a $140,000 house an extra $6.14 a year.

Stenger, a lawyer and a certified public accountant, called Dooley's proposal "a revenue grab."

"The only thing I can surmise is that the Dooley administration does not want to do more with less, instead of tightening their belts and playing by the same rules as everyone else is playing by in this economy," said Stenger, of the Affton area.

He disputed Dooley's statistics, citing a county report that showed that general funds revenue through the second quarter of this year were only $824,000 lower than in 2010.

"There's nothing on the horizon to suggest that trend won't continue through the rest of the year, and the result will be a negligible drop that won't affect our reserves," he said.

He said the county's total reserves at the end of 2010 were $82.5 million.

"This money, coupled with conservative appropriations for 2011, would easily allow for the proposed raise for county employees," Stenger said.


Stenger also suggested that if there were to be any layoffs, they should start with some recent county hires.

"In recent months, Charlie and (recently elected assessor) Jake Zimmerman have overseen the hiring of numerous political friends," he said. He cited six such hires this year with connections to Democratic politics, despite a countywide hiring freeze. They included Katy Jamboretz, Dooley's former campaign spokeswoman; Mike Temporiti, the son of Dooley's campaign treasurer, John Temporiti; and several former members of Zimmerman's campaign staff.

Stenger noted that their salaries, along with the severance pay for an employee whose departure made room for one of the new hires, amounted to about $342,000.

"That would have been a good start right there to help pay for the raises that longtime county employees deserve," he said.

Stenger said that Dooley had approached him and Councilman Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant, earlier this week.

"Charlie told Mike and me that he wanted to sell this tax increase to the public by using the police pay issue," Stenger said. "When we told Charlie we wouldn't support a tax increase because there's plenty of money in the budget already for a pay raise, Charlie turned around and tried to use the police to sell the tax raise to us (the council)."

Fitch confirmed that Dooley had asked him to call on the council members.

Fitch said he did not necessarily support a tax increase.

"My job as police chief is to advocate for my employees," Fitch said. "It's imperative that they get a raise next year. It doesn't matter to me how it gets done."

Stenger said he believed Dooley "wanted to drive a wedge between (the council) and the police."
Dooley denied such a motivation.

"That's untrue. I don't have a beef with Mr. Stenger," he said, adding, "I'm disappointed in him."

Just two years ago, Dooley had called a press conference where he proposed cutting the property tax by 3.5 cents. The County Council approved the request.

At the time, Dooley was running for re-election.

Stenger called that move "a campaign stunt."

"If he really cared about the employees, he would have got them the pay raises instead of cutting taxes," he said. "If he wants to raise taxes, let him call another press conference and announce it that way."

In a poll of the six other County Council members, all except one expressed opposition to a tax increase.

 The exception was Kathleen Burkett, D-University City. She declined to say where she stood on the matter.


The issue has revealed a rare rift among Democrats in the county and may mark a sea change in interactions between the council and the county executive.

"My fellow council members' actions show a great deal of independence and leadership," Stenger said. "Charlie, on the other hand, is not displaying the kind of leadership that I am going to follow."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Former Mehlville Superintendent Tim Ricker "incapable of acting in the best interest of the district’s residents"

Editorial: Inadequate leadership requires D-113A change

Lemont Reporter
Posted Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:56 AM

Lemont, IL — Questionable financial practices have plagued the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A Board of Education for several years.

For one, the School Board must go through Lemont High School District 210 to obtain tax anticipation warrants to cover short-term expenses. In addition, the district was placed on the financial difficulty list in 2009 by the Illinois State Board of Education.

While the district shows a budget surplus for the coming school year, the kind of shoddy bookkeeping that has caused headaches in the past have persisted. The School Board took nearly a month to reconcile a deficit of $329,000 in the Education Fund.

The dilemma stemmed from a request for the board to retroactively approve revenue transfers between several funds. The fiscal year ended June 30, and the deficit needed to be resolved.

The board adopted a modified accrual accounting method last week to reconcile the deficit. Officials recently issued a press release on why the Education Fund showed a deficit. The explanation of what transpired still raises questions, ones we’ll address in the weeks to come.

Superintendent Tim Ricker has presided over a district that strains credibility with such repeated incompetence. An ugly divide has long existed on the board among members who support Ricker and those who don’t.

Ricker has been evasive and misleading about the financial problems the district has experienced. The district will never gain the trust of the broader Lemont community until it shows that it’s handling its financial issues effectively. Since Ricker continues to shield these errors from public view, he has shown himself  'incapable of acting in the best interest of the district’s residents".

Given the ongoing mismanagement, here’s an idea that should unite everyone on the School Board. The time has come for a leadership change at District 113A.

Copyright 2011 Lemont Reporter. Some rights reserved

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another View: Hilmer makes his case for reform of Missouri teachers' pension plan

Aaron Hilmer

August 24, 2011 - I'd like to offer you an investment opportunity in which I could take $260,000, make a return of 2,300 percent and provide you more than $6 million — a guaranteed $485 a day, every day, for the rest of your life. Of course, I also will give you cost-of-living increases every year.

Even better, it's against state law for you to not receive it. And if that's not enough, how about I toss in that you will receive more money in retirement checks than you did in paychecks when you actually worked?

What if I then told you that you are not eligible for this unless you recently retired as the superintendent of the Mehlville School District and you, the taxpayer, are being forced to pay this outrageous amount? Well I'm sure you're thinking: You're crazy, try to force me pay that to someone. My response is: That's fine, don't pay it and the government will put a lien on your house.

Do I have your attention yet?

When Terry Noble recently retired from the Mehlville School District he was asked by the Call to name his biggest accomplishment. Not only did he not name it, he said, "I really would rather leave that up to other people ...''

Unfortunately, south county residents will forever remember two things about Mr. Noble. The first is the $44,000-a-year raise he took, claiming at the time that it was about the students, not the money. However, he subsequently gave it back after a public outcry and settled for a paltry $10,886 increase.

Then to round things out, he presided over a disastrous and failed attempt at an 88-cent tax-rate increase that, in part, would have helped fund educators' ever-increasing pension costs.

In the real world, mediocrity like this is not rewarded. But in the fantasy world of government Mr. Noble rolled out of town with a guaranteed yearly pension of roughly $177,000 a year.

This is not being written to single out Mr. Noble, but to highlight what is happening in school districts throughout Missouri. How is it possible that residents are kept in the dark about unfair and expensive pension benefits for school district employees and who is to blame for this? The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of legislators in Jefferson City who write the laws granting this nonsense, complicit and clueless school boards who fund this and the teachers' unions who push their-self serving agenda, all the while reminding us that it's "for the kids."

This spring I went to Jefferson City to testify in favor of a bill that would have started the process of offering a 401(k)-style retirement plan as an alternative to the current system in an effort to fix this pension chaos. I was the only one in a crowded room to speak in favor of this.

The usual suspects of teachers' union representatives and people profiting from this pyramid scheme then garbled through the same tired demagoguery while our Republican and Democratic legislators with glazed looks on their faces did what most clueless politicians are so good at — nothing.

You — the residents and taxpayers — continue to see your services cut because of the public pension tsunami that is eating up swaths of local, state and federal budgets. Please contact your state representatives and senators and demand they do what Bonnie Stegman and I did five years ago at the Mehlville Fire Protect-ion District, and that's put all employees on a 401(k)-style pension plan to restore parity, transparency and sanity.

Unfortunately, considering that your elected officials in Jeff City also receive a guaranteed lifetime pension for the part-time job they do, the odds of them doing something are slim and down the road you, the taxpayer, will be left holding the bag while they are getting their check every month.

The Missouri Public School Retirement System is by definition a Ponzi scheme that needs ever-increasing amounts from new entrants to pay existing members far more money than the fraction they invested. It is more than $8 billion underfunded and if it was accounted for like the few remaining private pension plans, it would be many billion more dollars in the red.

There is no reason why people who work for the public should receive better retirement benefits than the taxpayers who are forced to provide them.

Aaron Hilmer has served as chairman of the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors since April 2005. He was elected to a second six-year term in April.

More Than $900 to be Added to Mehlville Teachers' Base Pay

Board votes 5-2 to approve 1-percent pay hike for classified staff.


August 24, 2011 - More than $900 will be added to Mehlville teachers' base salaries for the 2011-2012 school year, the district's chief financial officer said Friday.

Teachers will remain on the same step on the certified salary schedule this year as they were in 2010-2011, but the amount of that step will increase by $950, CFO Noel Knobloch said.

The pay increase is the result of higher-than-projected district balances at the end of the previous school year, a surplus that triggered a revenue-sharing clause in a memorandum of understanding between the Board of Education and the Mehlville National Education Association.

That provision stated if end-of-year balances exceeded projections by $500,000 or more, half of the excess funds would be added to the certified salary schedule.

When the district closed the books on 2010-2011, its general and teachers fund balances totaled $14,937,349 — roughly $2.1 million greater than the $12,825,516 initially projected, according to information provided by Knobloch.

The amount of surplus over the $500,000 threshold came to $1,611,833, meaning $805,917 will be given to teachers.

Of that total, $670,120 will be devoted to salaries, the rest to retirement contributions, Medicare and workers' compensation. Divided among 706 certified positions, the final salary step adjustment will be $950.

The district's 2011-2012 budget was prepared with only salary channel changes in mind as certified and classified personnel salary steps were frozen at 2010-2011 levels.

In the certified salary schedule, channels denote a teacher's level of education. Each channel also includes steps that represent each year a teacher has worked.

With the salary step adjustment, the starting base salary for a Mehlville teacher will increase to $35,709 from $34,759.

Knobloch has attributed the surplus to an additional $775,000 in state revenue and more than $1 million in cost savings by the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

An extra $236 was added to teachers' base salaries last year after end-of-year balances exceeded projections by more than $200,000, the threshold agreed to by the board and MNEA in the previous MOU.

Hourly classified district employees also will see their current salary step increase this school year as the Board of Education approved a 1-percent raise last week.

The board voted 5-2 Aug. 18 to approve the pay increase. Board members Rich Franz and Mark Stoner were opposed.

The increase will cost the district $120,000 plus $15,000 in payroll taxes. Knobloch has said there is enough "cushion" in the 2011-2012 budget to absorb the certified and classified pay increases.

As with teachers, classified staff — such as nurses, secretaries and custodians — will remain on their current salary step, but the amount of the step will increase.

Officials have said they've traditionally tied certified and classified staff pay increases together out of fairness to both groups. However, the board voted last month to postpone a decision on the classified raise until it could discuss budget priorities at its annual retreat.

Some board members at the time questioned whether the raise was the best use of the surplus funds, while others contended granting a pay increase to teachers and not to classified staff would be detrimental to morale. That discussion continued last week.

During a period for public comment, Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association co-founder Ken Meyer asked the board "to take into consideration that we are living in a different time currently. Washington may operate their system without a budget, but we do have a budget here at the Mehlville School District. We need to learn to live within that budget."

Classified employees "certainly probably deserve the pay raise. I'm not here to condemn them ...," Meyer added, "but yet at the same time we need to spend the money our money wisely, and this is not the time or the place to be giving pay raises, and I'm talking specifically about the non-certified people."

Board member Ron Fedorchak later said he appreciated Meyer's comments but contended that "this board and previous boards have been very fiscally responsible and put the district on very good footing. And in fact, that's where this money's coming from ..."

Fedorchak added that "several classified employees" were "very insulted" when some board members commented at the July meeting that there may be better ways to spend the additional funds.

"So I just bring that for consideration that we as board members can kill morale by our actions," he said.

Board Secretary Elaine Powers suggested offering a bonus to classified employees rather than adding money to the salary schedule. But Knobloch said such a move was not allowed by Missouri law.

"Just to give somebody a $300 bonus, that is not appropriate under state statutes because you're giving it for no extra work being performed," he said, noting the district has separate schedules for additional compensation. "But you can adjust their schedules to give them a raise which is then in line for the work they are currently doing."

Stoner said while he is not against salary increases for employees, the board and the district "is going about this the wrong way." He said the district should undertake "a wage and salary review to see if you are attracting the right quantity/quality of candidates" before increasing base salaries.

"That's fundamentally why I'm against this," he said. "We have not done that as a district. I'd like to point that out."

Stoner suggested granting "partial step" increases instead of raising base salaries, a "forever pay increase for the district."

Knobloch replied that human resources officials two years ago conducted a study on classified salaries around the St. Louis area and matched up the district's rates accordingly.

"To say that these are not rates which are established based upon market is completely incorrect," Knobloch said.

Stoner then referenced comments made at July's meeting by Assistant Superintendent-Supervision of Schools Lisa Counts — formerly head of human resources — who estimated the district may get as many as 20 qualified applicants for a classified opening.

"That tells me clearly that we are being competitive in the marketplace," Stoner said.

Knobloch responded that the large pool of applicants is attributable to high unemployment and not all who apply will pass background checks.

"We may get 100 people, and there may only be four good candidates," Knobloch said.

Board member Tom Diehl added, "The other thing is just because we can hire new people every year, we've got people that have been with us 10, 15, 20, 30 years, and they're entitled to some respect as well."

Knobloch disputed the claim the raises would be permanent.

"If you want to rescind them next year, you can go back to the step schedule that was in effect without adding the 1 percent. Your concern that it's etched in here forever, that's not actually the case," he said. "Obviously you'd be cutting people's salaries, but as a board, if the budget so requires, you can do that. Just because you add 1-percent to the steps doesn't mean it's there forever, but you certainly can't get them to the next step because that's a 3-percent raise.

"To set another artificial step in between would be just as problematic as adding 1-percent to the existing step. So it's an approach which is workable. Is it perfect? No, but there are a lot of things with our compensation schedules on the teacher side and classified side that are not perfect."

Stoner later said it would be "bad policy" for the board to grant raises and take them away the next year.

Board Vice President Larry Felton said the administration's relationship with employees is what makes the district unique.

"So I think we have a responsibility to equip our administration to be successful," Felton said. "I think we have a responsibility of consistency. I will agree that we need to take a look at the way we do our memorandum of understanding, but we do that every year. We take a look at its content, its scope and what we want to accomplish with it.

"But for consistency and the fact that we have no alternative that we can do in the next five minutes, I think we need to be consistent with the classified employees with the same thing we did for certified. I think we need to take a strong look moving forward. There are other approaches to this, but right now I believe the classified salaries are basically being held hostage and until we have an alternative I think we should pass this."

Board member Rich Franz, who participated in last week's meeting over the telephone, said, "I'm hearing a number of comments — Tom, Larry, Ron — that this boils down to morale. Folks, so we're going to tell the taxpayers that we're giving away this money because we want people to feel good about their jobs and to like us? That's what I'm hearing. Did anybody hear Mr. Meyer's comments at the beginning of the meeting? We're living in a new age, we're living in a new world ... and I'm not sure a lot of you folks are thinking about that. I know you'd all like the employees to love you, and Tom you've basically admitted that this pay raise boils down to nothing more than morale. Well there's a lot more at stake than that ...

"As soon as it's viable, as soon as the economy recovers and more importantly, as soon as the people who own this school district ... feel it's appropriate to give those pay raises, then we're willing to do that. Because school board, let's not forget: We have a credibility issue. That message has been sent to us by the community over and over again in the last 12 months. I know some of you don't want to think about that, but that's the case. And if you give this pay raise, you're sending the message to that community ... that it's business as usual ..."

Toward the end of last week's meeting, Diehl thanked classified employees, noting they're "responsible for the safety and health of our children."

"And if you're a parent, that's something that's appreciated," Diehl said. "I think we need to realize that our staff is quite professional and caring and does an excellent job."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

EMS Teacher at SLCC Gives Better Grades to Students Who "Volunteer" For Democrat Party

South County residents are well aware of the perpetual meddling of public sector unions in local election campaigns. Last April, IAFF Local 1889 dropped close to $100,000 to defeat Aaron Hilmer in the Mehlville FPD while the Mehlville teacher's union mobilized to defeat reform candidates Rich Franz and Mark Stoner. These unions were narrowly defeated in spite of their exorbitant spending.

However a far more subtle union political scam has been uncovered by the MCTA concerning St. Louis Community College EMS program assistant, Stephanie Buck. 

We have learned that Ms. Buck who serves as a EMT-P for the Robertson FPD and is a militant activist for IAFF Local 2665.  Ms. Buck has involved her students in Democratic political campaigns for extra "community service" course credits.

According to students in Buck's SLCC classes, Stephanie Buck informed paramedic students that she'd been contacted by Jennifer Stuhlman, the political commissar of Local 2665. Stuhlman apparently told Buck that the union needed help with a Democrat political campaign. At that time Buck told her students that if they would "volunteer" to help with the campaign they would get credit for community service.

Students who "volunteered" were sent to Clayton where they were directed to put up yard signs for Democratic St. Louis County Assessor candidate, Jake Zimmerman. These students then were awarded course credits for "community service".  

Since when is it permissible for teachers to use students of a taxpayer supported institution (St. Louis Community College) to erect yard signs for the Democrat party to get better grades? Paramedics ARE NOT political science majors and should be doing their community service in the public health category where urgent help is needed all over St. Louis County.

The Board of St. Louis Community College should immediately commission a thorough investigation of Stephanie Buck's union/political advocacy. The Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association calls upon the board of the St. Louis Community College District to send a clear message to the community that this partisan use of the taxpayers dollars will not be tolerated and Ms. Buck will be immediately dismissed from her position with the district.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Teachers Make More in Retirement Than When Actively Employed

The Public School & Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri (PSRS/PEERS) produced a video on YouTube entitled "Funding Update" to inform the elite recipiants of the status of their gold-plated pension plan. PSRS/PEERS presented  Bret Ghan, Chief Communications Officer's interview with M. Steve Yoakham, Executive Director.

At the 6:50 mark on this video,  M. Steve Yoakham states the amazing fact that "We will pay that average retired teacher more money in retirement than her school district paid her during her working career".  HMMMMMM!

We ask: Is that a good deal for the taxpayers? We here at the MCTA think not. We urge you to contact your state legislators and tell then that you are FED UP with the PSRS/PEERS redistribution of wealth to the public education ruling class. Tell them that you want REFORM NOW! 

Former Mehlville Superintendent Tim Ricker in Hot Water AGAIN!

Former Mehlville Superintendent Tim Ricker has certainly brought his inferior leadership skills to the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A in Illinois. Mr. Ricker is being paid more than $200,000 a year by this district while he STILL COLLECTS over $150,000 from the taxpayers here in Mehlville! 
Ricker is even doing a crappier job THERE that he did HERE. (Remember the Ricker-sponsored 97-cent tax increase, Prop A that failed miserably in 2006 under Ricker's disastrous "leadership"?) 
Mr. Ricker was also included in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Open Government at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, the lawsuits claim District 113A school board members "engaged or aided in illegal spending, and then took steps to conceal expenditures by draining funds legally appropriated for other purposes, all in violation of Illinois law," which allegedly resulted in the loss of $12 million in taxpayer money, the complaint said. 
While the MCTA is HAPPY that Ricker is gone, we are UNHAPPY that we are still stuffing his pockets with our hard-earned tax dollars. Tim Ricker now earns almost a half a million dollars a year in salary and benefits while he destroys another school district outside of Missouri. The pension plan for educators is out of control and needs reform NOW!! Read the latest:
'Now is not a good time'
After heated discussion, board waits to solve negative fund balance
By Janice Hoppe,
Posted Aug 11, 2011 @ 01:56 PM
Last update Aug 11, 2011 @ 02:02 PM

Despite previous claims from its superintendent that District 113A did not withhold checks due to a negative cash balance in its Education Fund, the district’s interim business manager Wednesday night admitted to doing so.
Superintendent Tim Ricker told The Reporter in several interviews last month — via phone and email — that holding checks was never an option for the school district to reconcile the negative fund balance, which came to light during a board meeting July 19.
During a special meeting Wednesday night, interim business manager Jay Tovian told the board that he withheld various checks, though he did not indicate what types of checks were held.
"(The checks) were withheld because there were insufficient funds," Tovian told the board Wednesday night. "I didn't mail the checks because they would bounce."
That statement contradicts what Ricker told The Reporter late last month.
“There are no late checks and nothing of that nature," Ricker said during a telephone interview July 21.
When approached for follow-up questions after the nearly four-hour-long meeting Wednesday, Ricker would not respond to questions from The Reporter.
"Now is not a good time," he said before leaving the building.
Phone calls were placed to both Ricker and Tovian Thursday morning, and were not returned as of press time.
The checks withheld were printed on June 28, Tovian said at the meeting, but were not sent out until July 7 — the day before the school district received $5 million in Tax Anticipation Warrants.
As for the negative balance, which Tovian said he discovered June 28, the board chose to wait to settle on a solution until they receive an auditor's opinion.
District officials had thought they would receive direction from the Illinois State Board of Education prior to the meeting, but that did not happen, according to Ricker.
Ricker said Deb Vespa, an administrator with ISBE, had not responded with any direction as of Wednesday night. Ricker said Vespa only indicated that the district should speak with its attorneys and auditors for a solution.
"Her input was not to have a negative cash balance," Ricker said regarding his discussion with Vespa. "This is not an uncommon occurrence with (ISBE). I think in her thoughts there's a risk if she gives her opinion."
Barbara Germany, District 113A’s incoming business manager, then said she will discuss with the auditors the best route to take to create a positive cash balance for ending the Fiscal 2011 budget.
The board is expected to settle on a solution during its board meeting on Tuesday.
In order for the board to approve the Fiscal 2012 budget — which began July 1 — it must rectify the negative balance in the Fiscal 2011 budget. School districts cannot begin operating on a new fiscal budget with a negative fund balance.
Mary Fergus, spokesperson for the ISBE, said the District 113A board has until the end of September to approve the Fiscal 2012 and submit it to the ISBE in order to place the approved budget on its website.
The negative fund balance was made public during a board meeting July 19 when District 113A School Board members Al Malley and Mike Aurelio, the board president, said the board was asked by Tovian to sign off on two fund transfers back-dated to June 29.
Thomas Melody, one of the school district's attorneys, was present during Wednesday’s meeting to offer legal counsel on the back-dated resolution. He was asked by Aurelio to attend the meeting.
Melody said it is within school board code to approve a retroactive resolution, but that it is not a common practice.
"Sometimes it happens, but it's not the best way to proceed," he said. "But it's not like anyone stole any funds or there was any misappropriation of funds. ... It's not ideal but it's OK."
While Ricker has insisted that no transfer of money within school funds was ever made, Melody said was he under the assumption that transfers were made, based on his own research leading up to Wednesday's meeting.
"If that wasn't the case, why would you draft a resolution that is retroactive?" he asked. "That would make no sense, why do you need a resolution that would have said, 'we are going to make this effective June 29'?"

— Ryan Terrell contributed to this report.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New Board Members Vote to Table Action on Pay Hike

August 03, 2011 - Some Mehlville Board of Education members are questioning whether a 1-percent raise for district classified staff is the best use of surplus funds from last year's budget.

The board's four newest members last week voted to table a decision on the pay increase so the topic could be part of a larger discussion on budget priorities at the board's annual retreat on Saturday, Aug. 13.

Voting in favor of postponing the issue were board Secretary Elaine Powers; board members Rich Franz and Mark Stoner and new board member Ron Fedorchak, who was sworn in at the July 28 meeting.

Opposed were board President Venki Palamand, Vice President Larry Felton and board member Tom Diehl.

District officials are recommending that hourly classified staff receive a 1-percent increase to their current salary step for the 2011-2012 school year based on a surplus in the budget for fiscal 2011, which ended June 30.

The increase would cost the district $120,000 plus $15,000 in payroll taxes, according to Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch. Mehlville teachers already are projected to receive a roughly 1.5-percent increase to their pay step because of the surplus, Knobloch said.

Higher-than-projected district balances at the end of fiscal 2011 triggered a revenue sharing provision in a memorandum of understanding between the board and the Mehlville National Education Association.

The MOU states that if end-of-year district balances surpass projections by $500,000 or more, half of the excess funds will be put toward teachers' salaries.

Officials believe it's only fair, then, to grant classified personnel a similar pay increase, Knobloch told the board last week.

Both classified and certified employees will remain on their current salary step, but the amount of that step will increase.

None of the pay increases on the table are for administrators, Knobloch said.

Teachers and classified staff normally move up a step on their salary schedule based on the number of years worked and satisfactory job performance, respectively.

All staff were frozen on their salary step in 2008-2009, but both certified and classified employees have received step increases the last two years, Knobloch said.

Mehlville's 2011-2012 budget was prepared with certified and classified personnel salary steps frozen at 2010-2011 levels. However, the district in June realized an unexpected $775,000 in state revenues coupled with $1.4 million in cost savings, resulting in a roughly $2.3 million surplus in the 2010-2011 budget.

Knobloch told the board there is enough "cushion" in the 2011-2012 budget to absorb the certified and classified pay hikes.

The fiscal 2012 budget, as approved by the board in June, projects a $55,000 deficit and an operating reserve of more than 16 percent of expenditures next June 30.

"This will not cause us to go deeper in deficit," Knobloch said of the pay increases.

But Stoner contended that the pay increase wouldn't be a one-time expense.

"This is a multiyear decision, and so over five years you're talking $600,000," he said. "... It just seems to me that as a board member ... the message I don't want to send to taxpayers is that every time we have a little surplus, we're going to give this out in terms of a raise.

"I think we need to think of the best way — and I don't think that we've evaluated this as a board — the best to spend this money. We just simply have not had a lot of time to discuss this."

Powers asked Knobloch if tying certified raises to classified pay increases was the "precedent."

"... Yes, it has been the practice to not treat one group of employees differently," he said, adding that the board was not legally required to increase classified salaries. "... It's kind of a gentleman's agreement, an understanding, keeping working conditions and morale at a respectable level."

Powers said later, "It does raise the question though of whether this is the best use of additional dollars ... I understand wanting to make things equitable, I understand employee morale. I agree with what Mark said, though, in terms of wanting to have some additional discussion as to whether this is the best — maybe we decide this is the best way. But I think that we should be more involved perhaps in some of these discussions about what are we going to do with these additional dollars instead of just assuming that we're going to match up with teachers."

But Diehl said morale and fairness are "key issues."

"These are basically some of our lowest paid employees, and if we're going to pinch pennies on them then we're sending really a rather negative message," he said. "We have a $100 million operation. We're looking at one-tenth of 1 percent as far as what this would cost ... It's really not going to make a lot of difference in the way the district operates. It's not going to make a lot of difference as far as what happens in the classroom. But it'll make a lot of difference in the lives of the people who drive our kids to school and track their health as far as our nurses, our secretaries, our custodial people ..."

Felton said, "I don't think anybody here thinks that we don't take a good hard look at spending, but I don't think that as a group we've sat down and gone through that exercise. I think this is a great opportunity for the retreat, because I think this is something we ought to talk about: What is our philosophy toward spending? But I don't think you manage spending one thing at a time. I think that leads to chaos. I think it's micro-managing ..."

Franz also wanted more time to discuss the proposal, noting he first learned details about it "in the local news media, which I'm not real happy about."

"No one is saying that at some point we wouldn't all agree, or we wouldn't as a majority vote in favor of a pay raise," Franz said at one point. "But to Elaine and Mark's point, I think it certainly deserves more discussion."

Franz added later that district voters "have in my opinion sent a very clear message in the last 12 months to this board that they expect fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservatism," he contended. "And I don't think that this pay raise achieves that goal."