Former Mehlville board member believes ‘our kids deserve better’


Letter to the Editor

To the editor:
As a graduate of the Mehlville School District and former member of the Board of Education, I was saddened to hear that once again, the district performed poorly on state tests measuring academic achievement.
Board members publicly stated last year that they were “embarrassed” by the low math scores. This year, the report from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is worse.
Just 44.8 percent of Mehlville students scored at the proficient or advanced level in math. That is lower than last year and nearly 30 points below Lindbergh.
In the all-important subjects of reading and math, Mehlville outperformed only Bayless in reading — but not math. All other neighboring districts scored equal or higher in both subjects.
Perhaps more troubling, Mehlville actually declined year over year, when compared to statewide averages in reading and math.
There were warning signs. Going back to the spring of 2016, there were split 5-2 board votes on the approval of the 2016-2017 budget, extension of the superintendent’s contract, and a few months later, a spending request for another elementary school.
But the five board members who voted in lockstep with the ad-ministration prevailed.
Two years since voter approval of Proposition R — a 49-cent tax-rate increase — and with current district revenues some $13 million higher than the board-approved 2015-2016 budget, these results should be unacceptable to both the Board of Education and the administration.
Money is no longer an issue, as district fund balances continue to grow, year after year. Mehlville is projected to have nearly $27 million sitting in the bank when the current school year comes to a close. It’s unconscionable that even with all this money there are still kids on a reading wait list.
This is not about Mehlville’s classroom teachers, who are caring, dedicated to their craft and devoted to their kids. This is about leadership and spending priorities.
I understand that change takes time, and that overnight, Mehlville was not going to close the achievement gap with higher performing districts, like Lindbergh and Fox. But math and reading scores are declining, not improving.
Two years after voter approval of a large tax-rate increase, Mehlville continues to look up to Affton, Bayless and Hancock Place as higher-performing school districts.
Our kids deserve better.
Venki Palamand

Editor’s note: Venki Palamand served on the Mehlville Board of Education from 2007 to 2013 and from 2014 to 2017.