CACF recommendation debated extensively by board

Fifth in a series

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

A recommendation by a Mehlville School District citizens’ committee to place a $70.2 million bond issue be-fore voters was debated extensively by Board of Educa-tion members during the summer of 2000.

That debate is the focus of this installment of the Call’s review of the history of the project that ultimately became the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program.

Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. However, a final budget revision approved last month by the school board raises the Proposition P budget to $89,137,440 — a roughly 30.3 percent increase — more than $20.7 million over the nearly $68.4 million building improvement program envisioned in 2000.

The fifth installment of the Proposition P chronology, based on Mehlville documentation and published accounts in the Call, picks up in July 2000:

• July 2000 — If the Board of Education places a bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot to fund districtwide building improvements, Dan Fowler will serve as chairman of a citizens’ committee to promote the measure’s passage.

Fowler has been serving as chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Fa-cilities, which has recommended the school board place a $70.2 million bond issue be-fore voters to address the first phase of the district’s building needs.

Superintendent John Cary asked him to serve as chairman of the campaign committee if the board places a bond issue on the ballot, and “I’ve agreed to do it,” said Fowler, who served nine years on the school board. “It’s a natural transition for me to go from board member to CACF chairman to chairing the campaign committee …”

• July 17, 2000 — Ballot language placing a $70.2 million bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot that would address the first phase of districtwide building improvements will be considered next month by the Board of Education.

Board members voted 6-1 July 17 to in-struct Cary to formulate ballot language incorporating the recommendations for the first phase of a master facilities plan developed by the CACF. Board member Matt Chellis, who had presented an alternate proposal to the CACF’s recommendation, was opposed.

Before voting to have Cary formulate the ballot language, board members discussed at length Chellis’ alternate proposal that called for a 50-cent tax-rate increase for five years. Revenue generated by the tax-rate increase would allow the district to fully implement the middle-school concept, fund a new facility at Oakville Elementary School and provide about $10 million for districtwide improvements over a five-year period. His proposal would fund the construction of a new middle school at the current site of Bernard Elementary and a new addition at Washington Middle School, eventually allowing sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to be housed at four buildings throughout the district.

But after discussing Chellis’ proposal, the board rejected the alternate plan.

“I would just like to thank Matt for recognizing that there are needs within the Mehlville School District. I’d like to thank you for recognizing that additional taxes are necessary … That is a positive step in the right direction,” board Secretary Margi Cook said. “However, I would be unable to support this proposal as I’ve heard it be-cause it does not address the Mehlville School District’s needs.

“Unfortunately it is a band-aid approach to a hemorrhaging school district. It does not address the impact of inflation, of further deterioration of our school buildings adequately. It would take too many years to begin to address many of the safety needs, and, frankly, our children have waited long enough,” Cook added.

Board member Walt Bivins asked if a future board would have any legal obligation to spend the revenue generated by the 50-cent tax-rate increase for the projects Chellis proposed.

Cary said, “I would know of none … One board cannot tie another board’s hands unless it’s done through like a bond issue. Obviously, that’s set for a longer period of time. That would be in the ballot language. But just a straight tax levy, you cannot hold future boards to anything.”

After more discussion, Cook made a motion “to approve the CACF report and that the Board of Education be provided at its next meeting with ballot language for a bond issue proposal based on the CACF report,” according to approved minutes from the July 17, 2000, board meeting.

Board member Rich Huddleston seconded Cook’s motion, which was approved.

• July 2000 — Chellis believes a recommendation to place a $70.2 million bond issue on the ballot to fund districtwide facility improvements would be defeated by voters.

“I feel that this tax increase is going to fail,” board member Matt Chellis told the Call.

But Cary and Fowler disagree with Chellis’ assessment.

Current figures provided to the district by A.G. Edwards & Sons estimate a $70.2 million bond issue would require a tax-rate increase of 45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation — four cents less than previously estimated. As proposed, the leasehold bond issue would require a simple majority to be approved by voters and would be retired over a 20-year period.

Asked why he believed the proposal would fail if placed on the ballot, Chellis said the measure would be “a slap in the face of the more than 16,000 people” who voted against the district’s Proposition K in April 1999. That proposal, a 30-cent tax-rate increase for 20 years, would have funded districtwide facility improvements and new technology. Twenty cents would have been used to fund a bond issue and the remaining 10 cents would have been used to fund new technology.

Given the fact that voters wouldn’t approve a 30-cent tax-rate increase, Chel-lis said he doubted the support exists for the tax-rate increase needed for the CACF’s recommendation. “Everyone I’ve spoken to said it was a no-brainer,” he said. “No one is going to vote for it.”

But Cary told the Call he believes any proposal the Board of Education places on the ballot will be a winner, primarily be-cause of the extensive community engagement process utilized by the district to ob-tain citizen input in formulating the CACF recommendation. That proposal, he noted, is the culmination of more than six months’ work involving the participation of more than 3,500 community members.

And that is the main difference between the current proposal and past ballot measures, the superintendent noted. Previous proposals did not involve obtaining that community input, he said.

The chronology continues next week.