BREAKING NEWS (as of 11:33 a.m. on Saturday, June 28)

Mehlville School District finance director resigns to accept new employment

By BURKE WASSON

Mehlville School District Director of Finance Brent Bell has resigned to accept a position outside of the district.

District officials have declined to say where Bell has accepted a new position and a press release from the district stated that Bell “has submitted a letter of resignation to pursue other opportunities.”

Superintendent Terry Noble said district officials will begin work soon to hire a chief financial officer to replace Bell.

Bell’s last day employed with the district is July 10.

For the time being, Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost will continue to serve as interim district treasurer and chief financial officer.

Bell was demoted in March to his former position as director of finance after district officials learned that they had been given faulty financial projections in June 2007 when the board approved the district’s 2007-2008 budget.

In March, updated financial projections indicated the Mehlville School District’s operating-fund balance would dip below the state-required 3-percent minimum by the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

At the time, Noble said he was “taken aback” by that projection for the 2009-2010 school year as it differed significantly from a previous projection delivered by Bell to the board that the district would have an operating-fund balance of 5.75 percent on June 30, 2010.

But in approving the district’s 2008-2009 budget on Thursday night, district officials pointed out that through a series of cuts, the district is projecting a 9.62-percent operating-fund balance at the end of the 2008-2009 school year due to not funding teachers’ salary schedule.

And while district officials feared in March that the operating-fund balance at the end of the 2009-2010 school year would dip below the state-required 3-percent minimum, Noble now estimates that the district will end that school year with a 4.11-percent balance if the district proceeds with its teachers’ salary schedule. If the salary schedule is again not funded, the district is projected to end the 2009-2010 school year with an operating-fund balance of 7.55 percent.

During a 5.5-hour emergency closed session on March 25, the Board of Education voted 4-3 to demote Bell. The board’s action returned Bell to his previous position as director of accounting along with a roughly $19,000 pay cut. Bell was paid $106,000 as chief financial officer and was demoted to an annual salary of $86,804.

Bell, a longtime Mehlville employee, was named interim chief financial officer in August 2006 and later named CFO.

The Mehlville Board of Education voted 4-0 in a Thursday night closed session to accept Bell’s letter of resignation. Board Vice President Micheal Ocello and board members Venki Palamand and Erin Weber were absent from the closed session.

“We were informed that Brent Bell had sought and found employment outside the district,” board President Tom Diehl said. “The Board of Education accepted his resignation. We wish him the best of luck in his new position.”

Noble emphasized Friday that Bell resigned on his own accord.

“It was something that we weren’t seeking,” Noble said. “I’m only saying that because under the circumstances, some might think we were. But we weren’t. I’ve told people I’d put my life in the hands of Brent Bell. I honestly would. That’s how much I think of him. And that’s just my position on him and that’s the honest truth.”

” . . .I’m not disappointed for him. I’m happy for him if it’s what he wants to do because I want what’s best for Brent. He had told me some time before that he wasn’t sure if he would remain with us and that he was going to be pursuing some other avenues.”