Declining Mehlville test scores cost of losing 2010 tax-rate hike

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“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

Mike Anthony

The Call’s Opinions page recently has hosted a great deal of debate about the Mehlville School District’s state test scores.
We’ve seen a lot of finger pointing in an effort to assign blame for the scores, which showed some improvement this year. Yet Mehlville continues to lag behind other area districts at key grade levels and subjects.
But one point of agreement is that test scores have been declining for the past eight or nine years. From 2008 to 2014, Mehlville’s scores dropped relative to the state average, coinciding with a series of budget cuts that disproportionately hit the elementary level, according to Superintendent Chris Gaines.
When Gaines interviewed for the superintendent’s post before being hired in early 2015, he told the board that the district’s state test scores were declining. So he was well aware of the work that needed to be done.
For some, Gaines and his staff aren’t working fast enough to improve test scores. Others note that last year was the first the district had reading coaches, textbooks and professional development restored or added with funds from the November 2015 49-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition R.
So why did it take so long for voters to step up and support Mehlville and its needs? The answer goes back to 2010 and the then-Board of Education’s ill-fated decision to place an 88-cent tax-rate hike before voters.
Led by then-board President Tom Diehl and board member Karl Frank Jr., the board discussed placing a 94-cent tax-rate increase on the ballot before deciding on the equally disastrous 88-cent tax-rate hike that voters trounced in November 2010.
Then-board Vice President Venki Palamand lobbied hard for a reasonable tax-rate increase, but Diehl and Frank said they didn’t believe much could be accomplished with, for example, a 47-cent tax-rate hike.
“… What if we go for 47 cents?” Diehl said during an August 2010 board work session. “Oh, we passed 47 cents, but we can’t do anything here. So, what’s the benefit? …”
Palamand countered that there would be a “real cost to losing.” He was correct. Thanks primarily to Diehl and Frank, it took another five years to restore the public’s confidence in the district and garner approval of Prop R.
And the 49 cents is funding reading coaches, textbooks, professional development and more — things that would have helped prevent the decline in test scores had a reasonable measure been put on the ballot in 2010.