South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville Board of Education votes unanimously to form Proposition P Review Committee

A committee to review the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program has been established with a unanimous vote of the Mehlville Board of Education.

The Proposition P Review Committee will be comprised of nine members appointed by the Board of Education, according to the motion made by board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. and seconded by board member Tom Diehl.

Members of the Proposition P Review Committee cannot be current district employees or current school board members, according to Frank’s motion.

Furthermore, committee members cannot have been involved in any level of the Proposition P process, including the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities, as either school district employees, school board members or volunteers.

Frank’s motion, approved June 29, states that committee members, “drawn from the community, would preferably possess professional experience in one or more of the areas of construction, architecture, real estate, finance, law, technology, education and general management.”

The motion also states, “The Proposition P Review Committee will first seek input from the community by soliciting questions from the public in written form to be individually addressed in the final report. The submitted questions, as well as any other areas that the committee members should find necessary to review, will become the basis of this committee’s charge.”

After it is established, the committee will report its progress to the Board of Education at each board meeting with a goal of completing its work by Oct. 15.

“The findings and recommendations are to be guided by a focus on providing constructive criticism, as well as positive confirmation and procedural improvement. After a thorough review by the Board of Education, the board will act appropriately on the findings and recommendations presented by the review committee. Upon completion of their report and presentation to the Board of Education, this committee will be dissolved,” Frank’s motion states.

In explaining his rationale for establishing the committee, Frank said, “The formation of the Proposition P Review Committee and the committee itself should not view their charge as a witch hunt. The purpose of the committee is to provide guidance to the Mehlville Board of Education on the possible formation and/or editing of current board policy.

“The charge of the committee is to look at every aspect of Proposition P, the CACF, the Oversight Committee, the public reporting and the facilities themselves to report on what went right and what went wrong. This will help us in assuring our community that we will have the proper controls in place so that they can trust the Mehlville School District to deliver as promised — not just the facilities as promised, but the cost of the facilities as promised.”

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 in December 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 in 2000.

Frank’s motion to establish the Proposition P Review Committee is similar to a proposal he made last year that was voted down by the Board of Education.

In May 2005, Frank proposed establishing an independent commission to review the “passage and application” of Proposition P. Frank’s motion was seconded by board member Ken Leach, who now serves as board president.

After a lengthy and heated discussion, then-President Rita Diekemper, then-Vice President Bill Schornheuser, then-Secretary Mike Heins, Cindy Christopher and Tom Correnti voted against the motion.

Frank voted in favor of the motion, while Leach abstained.

Those voting against Frank’s motion cited a number of objections, contending it was “argumentative” and not “professionally written.” Some wanted more specifics about how people would be selected to serve on the commission and questioned why people would volunteer to serve on such a panel. But Frank countered that an independent commission was needed to review Proposition P to regain the public trust and move the school district forward.

In June 2005, a majority of the board again rejected Frank’s proposal for a review of Proposition P by an independent committee, opting to solicit proposals from certified public accountants to audit the building program.

The board last August selected RubinBrown to perform the Proposition P audit at a cost of $15,225. Board members voted 6-0 with Leach abstaining to have RubinBrown perform the audit for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2001, through June 30, 2005.

When RubinBrown’s audit was released in November, Frank termed it a “farce” and a “whitewash,” saying at the time, “Obviously, there were sloppy occurrences with misdated contracts, undated contracts, the board never approving the contracts for construction management and architectural services to begin with. To me, that’s a policy failure and the failure to disclose to the public, and it looks like to me even to the board, of exactly what was happening with the 49 cents.”

Frank said he learned in mid-2003 that of the 49-cent tax-rate increase, 41.6 cents were being used to retire bond-like certificates issued by the district to fund Proposition P projects, while the remaining 7.4 cents were being placed in the district’s capital fund and being used to fund Proposition P-related projects.

While the audit showed no discrepancies in Proposition P revenue collected or expenditures made, Frank said at the time he was unaware of anyone alleging that funds were missing. Furthermore, the audit did not explain why the cost of the Proposition P improvements increased by more than $20.7 million over the building program envisioned five years ago.

“RubinBrown’s audit was strictly a financial audit that looked at random transactions to make sure everything was OK — financial transactions to make sure that everything was on the up and up — and that’s never been a question of mine, and I don’t know that it’s been a question of most people,” Frank said Sunday. “We don’t think there was anything done financially wrong other than possibly some disclosure issues to the public. So this committee — and we’ll have to wait and see what they come up with — but I’m sure it will help this board and future boards by setting new policies and procedures in place to help us make better decisions and provide a more thorough oversight on future facilities projects, which is something the RubinBrown audit can’t do for us.”

Asked what’s different since he first proposed the committee last year, Frank cited a change in the board with Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello defeating four other candidates in the April election, including Heins and Schornheuser, and the overwhelming defeat of Proposition A, a 97-cent tax-rate increase, last February. Unresolved issues surrounding Proposition P were a factor in Proposition A’s defeat, he said.

“… I’ve said that all along and I still believe that. I don’t know that because of the way that Prop A was set up and what we were trying to achieve with the 97 cents, I don’t know that it would have passed anyway, but assuming that it was a reasonable amount that the public would have normally approved without Proposition P, I definitely think that Proposition P was a factor because there was a trust and credibility problem that we’re working really hard on to repair right now. I think we’ve set things in motion to fix that and think that (interim Superintendent) Dr. Jerry Chambers is going to help us out immensely.”

He added, “I think that what the community will know when this is all done is that we’ll still have our beautiful new buildings and educational resources that they can be proud of, but at the same time, they’ll also know that the Mehlville School District will always work to get it right in the long run.”

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