Four candidates challenging two incumbents for two seats on Mehlville school board

Second of two parts

Theresa Saunders Kleusch

Theresa Saunders Kleusch

By MIKE ANTHONY

Four candidates are challenging two incumbents for two seats on the Mehlville Board of Education in the April 4 election.

Incumbents Mike Heins and William “Bill” Schornheuser are being challenged by Mark Counts, Tom Diehl, Theresa (Saunders) Kleusch and Micheal Ocello. The seats carry three-year terms. This article will focus on Kleusch, Ocello and Schornheuser; Counts, Diehl and Heins were featured last week.

Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the three candidates responded:

• “We must restore public trust and confidence in the Mehlville School District’s leadership in order to improve the district’s solvency crisis,” Kleusch stated.

• “The impact on the education of our children caused by the lack of effective communication, public accountability and public trust that have together caused the most important issue facing this district today: lack of funding,” Ocello stated.

• “The budget issues — the constant struggle in dealing with rising costs and flat revenues,” Schornheuser stated.

Kleusch, 57, 5443 Hollow Oak Court, 63129, is a retired Mehlville teacher. She is married to Carl Kleusch. She has an adult child and a granddaughter.

Kleusch, who served as a Democratic committeewoman from 1996 to 2000, said she is seeking a seat on the school board because “I’ve devoted most of my adult life to the Mehlville School District as an employee, parent volunteer and taxpayer. Due to my educational background and community involvement, several former board members and others encouraged me to try my best to prevent Mehlville’s downward spiral. My supporters also wish to improve the way the current board conducts business — more open discussion, restore civility and build mutual respect.”

Ocello, 46, 6161 Clifton Oaks Place, 63129, is president of the VCG Holding Corp., an American Stock Exchange company that acquires real estate, restaurants and nightclubs, including adult entertainment nightclubs. Ocello and his wife, Laura, have a daughter who attends a Mehlville school and two grandchildren who attend Mehlville schools.

Ocello, a school board member with the Clayton Academy and Child Care Center for more than two years, also serves on Missouri’s Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board. He is seeking a seat on the school board because “I am concerned for my daughter’s education, my grandchildren’s education and the education of 12,000 other children in our district. I believe that the Mehlville School District has been a quality school district. I am concerned that with the current state of affairs in our district that our schools and ultimately our community are in serious trouble. I believe that there is unacceptable lack of communication from this board to our families, to our community leaders and to the press. This lack of communication has fostered an environment of mistrust and, in some cases, contempt for this board and this administration. In the end, all of our children will pay the price for this breach of the public trust …”

Schornheuser, 48, 5511 Bellemeade Trail Court, 63129, is a lead specialist for Transentric, a division of the Union Pacific Railroad. He and his wife, Veronica, have three children who attend Mehlville Schools.

Schornheuser, who served on the district’s Middle School Redistricting Committee and the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, first was elected to the school board three years ago. He is seeking re-election “to continue to work on issues and solutions that are in the best interest for education of children.”

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

For the past two years, the Mehlville School District has received 73 points on its Annual Performance Report. As a member of the Mehlville Board of Education, what do you propose to raise academic achievement?

Kleusch said, “My psychometric and testing experience as a reading specialist will help me find ways of helping the district focus on improving the Annual Performance Report. I am willing to volunteer my own services, recruit others, talk to parent groups and seek out other forms of support and incentives where there is a need. Since the report is based on showing significant improvement over the previous year, we need to help the students with low performance scores.”

Ocello said, “The current financial crisis has forced us into a situation where we must think creatively to raise academic achievement. There is no reason why the Mehlville School District cannot be one of the top performing districts in the state of Missouri. We need to work together as a community of friends, families and neighbors to accomplish this goal. Despite limited funding, we cannot force teachers to work with inadequate or antiquated resources and expect them to perform their job at the level we expect. I propose making classroom resources a priority.”

Schornheuser said, “I will continue to review what other districts have done to get better performance from the same types of students we have who are not moving up in achievement, then look at what it takes to do those same things in our schools.”

Do you believe the Mehlville Board of Education has faithfully adhered to the letter of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law? What would you do as a board member to ensure the board’s compliance with the law?

Kleusch said, “I am not sure if Mehlville is out of compliance. I’ve heard and read there has been difficulty obtaining information, that calls have not been forthcoming and that copy costs are inflated. It seems as though there have been more discussion time in closed session than in previous years. As a board member, I will push to have more open discussion and encourage less wait time and lower costs for copies.”

Ocello said, “Whether the letter of the Sunshine Law has been adhered to is debatable, but I do believe the spirit of the law has been violated, which is equally offensive to the citizens of the Mehlville School District. All decisions that affect our school system should be made in the presence of and with sufficient input from the people they affect.”

Schornheuser said, “Yes. Continue to review conversations/discussions and make sure that those follow the laws.”

With regard to Proposition P, at least one Mehlville administrator has stated: “The voters approved a 49-cent levy. They didn’t approve a $68 million project.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement?

Kleusch said, “Literally, 49 cents was stated on the ballot, but in the committee discussion and as reported in the newspaper, voters read and understood the estimated final cost of the projects would be $68 million.”

Ocello said, “There is a common perception among public officials that voters lose all rights to exercise oversight once a tax levy has been approved. I do not share this perception. Before I authorize a budget, I know how the money will be spent, and if a change arises, I expect to be consulted. Our community deserves the same courtesy. I will give the people what they want and deserve: sound financial management and accountability.”

Schornheuser said, “The vote was for a tax levy. And that money is to be used for projects estimated to be $68 million.”

In your opinion, who or what bears responsibility for the cost of Proposition P escalation from nearly $68.4 million to the current budget of $89.1 million?

Kleusch said, “I do not know who or what bears responsibility for the escalating Prop P costs. I prefer to not play the blame game, but I believe many still want to know how the overages occurred. Learning from mistakes is more important.”

Ocello said, “I cannot honestly say and I believe that this speaks directly to the issue of poor communication. I believe that there are many in our community that would like to know the answer to that question. Part of restoring the public’s trust in this board will be to provide the answers to what occurred with Prop P in a manner that is acceptable to the people asking the questions.”

Schornheuser said, “Poor estimates and detail(ed) plans, before the vote.”

Should the district charge more than its actual costs for copies of records requested under the Sunshine Law?

Kleusch said, “No.”

Ocello said, “No, the cost of requested records should be limited to the cost of producing them. Higher costs discourage citizen access to records to which they are entitled. We should be increasing transparency, not limiting it.”

Schornheuser said, “The charge should be close to the actual labor and materials for the request, but follow the charging restrictions within the law.”