Former administrators, architect address Proposition P Review Committee

Second of two parts

By MIKE ANTHONY

When a Mehlville Board of Education member said in April 2003 that Proposition P was on time and on budget, she was unaware of additional costs associated with the project, according to a former district administrator.

Then-Board of Education President Cindy Christopher told roughly 500 people at a district recognition night on April 24, 2003, that the Proposition P districtwide building-improvement program was on time and on budget. On May 22, 2003, the Call reported that administrators were projecting Proposition P would cost $13.6 million more than the program’s board-approved budget of $72.4 million.

Randy Charles, who served as chief financial officer from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2005, recently told a panel reviewing Proposition P that Christopher was unaware of such additional costs as construction manager’s fees and architect’s fees when she made that statement.

“… There have been some questions about a board member making a statement that we’re on time and on budget, and then roughly a few weeks later said: Well look, we’re not on budget. Early on, what I was reporting to the board were reports related to the construction cost under the facilities master plan. And at that point if you just looked at that piece of it — if you just looked at that piece of it — we were OK. But honestly, that ignored construction manager’s fees, architect’s fees and so on that we had hoped would be covered by arbitrage and so on … So in the board member’s defense, yeah, she was saying what she believed to be true because of the way we were reporting at the time.”

Charles, former Superintendent John Cary and Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects addressed the Proposition P Review Committee and answered questions during the panel’s sixth meeting Jan. 9.

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 by the Board of Education in December 2005 raised 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 six years ago.

During his remarks, Charles also addressed Proposition P Oversight Committee Chairman Chuck VanGronigen’s comment in June 2003 that administrators had not provided full disclosure to the panel of the total estimated cost of Proposition P.

“… Mr. VanGronigen brought up his concern about all the information being shared with the Oversight Committee, and during that meeting, I told the committee point blank: ‘You know what? I’m the CFO. I’m the one responsible for reporting this to you. Blame me. I’ll have the information to you at the next meeting,”’ he said. “One month later, we met. We spent about two to two-and-a-half hours going through, bringing everything, bringing (the committee) up to speed. And I think Mr. VanGronigen’s remark at the time was: Well, be careful what you ask for. Never did we have an issue about reporting or disclosing information after that date.”

During his remarks, Dickinson said two inaccurate reports by consultants had a tremendous negative impact on the initial estimate of $68.4 million for Proposition P.

Regarding roofs, he said, “… As we began to really investigate these roofs once we got into the actual projects, we found out that there were a lot more problems than the report that was given to us really indicated that there were. And so we had a roofing consultant that went through and did a districtwide study and actually came up with costs to replace those roofs that was, I guess, almost twice what the report was that had been given to the district several years before we got involved on what to do to fix those roofs. I mean that is a big issue. The roofs were just in terrible shape …”

He also said, “… We had an asbestos report that was done at least five years before we even got started on this — probably even longer ago than that. We thought that this was done by a qualified asbestos environmental consultant. We thought we could rely on that report. So we used that in the initial determination on what it was going to cost in order to abate. Once we got into it, we found out that much of that report was wrong. It was a false report …”

Cary, who served as superintendent from July 1996 until he retired in June 2003, told the panel, “… Prop P was obviously tough. There were a lot of tough decisions to make along the way. Whenever you make decisions at this level in government, you’re going to have some people that agree with those and some that don’t. But I do think the kids really won out in this situation …”

He also said, “It does concern me that there are feelings in the community that this wasn’t done well or even if it wasn’t done well that it wasn’t a good product, and so that’s why my interest to being here tonight to help you in your quest to make sure that doesn’t happen again or give recommendations so that may not happen again …”

Committee Co-chairman Kurt Witzel said, “… One of the bigger questions on this whole sort of public perception of Prop P is … and I’m not sure it’s ever been answered per se is that at some point, the question came up … We know we’re going to have extra money. And we have a choice of we can either utilize those extra funds that we got and do as Dwight (Dickinson) sort of said, do the maintenance that’s been needed for years and years on infrastructure, mechanical and plumbing and whatnot as long as we’re in there? Or do we stick to the strict letter of the law as far as what we’re saying we’re spending on each building and return some of that back to (taxpayers)?

“That question came up numerous times in the oversight minutes, and I’m not sure it ever came up on yours. It came up subsequently with (Cary’s successor) Dr. (Tim) Ricker, and there were questions about whether or not to get community input on that question. Do you have a thought on that or why that never took place or was that after your time? …”

Cary replied, “… My answer (is) that’s after my time. But that’s not necessarily true because I had talked with some folks about the possibility of what that would look like and maybe a better approach if the project continued to go south as far as budget was concerned, if we should redirect that to the CACF (Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities), and basically do a reverse back into the community process.

“I think that probably would have been a very good approach and I think if I had stayed, I probably would have, I would have done that. But we really didn’t have a lot of discussions even at the cabinet level … Of course, I had originally planned to retire a year before I did, so I think that would have been — especially in retrospect, going back, especially once we knew the impact or a better impact of the entire thing and what it was going to have on the budget, to go back to the CACF and say: ‘Should we cut these down to building a stack out here somewhere on Mehlville Senior and letting all the other problems lie or do we make these improvements?’

“But the toughest part of that is when do you do that because, again, it was very incremental. You were going a project at a time … So I think there are some things that would have to be ironed out in a process like that, too. But at the same time, if there is a way to iron that out, I think that would be an ideal situation to the very people that made the decisions to do these projects and said they were important for the school district and our kids to get them re-involved.”