Mehlville eyes $30,000 pact with Prop P consulting firm

By Alyson E. Raletz

Though the Mehlville Board of Education is considering hiring the same consulting firm used in 2000 for the Proposition P public engagement process, Superintendent Tim Ricker insists placing a tax-rate increase before voters is not the goal of a new public engagement process.

Administrators are recommending the Board of Education consider a 10-month agreement with UNICOM/ARC — at a total cost of $30,000 — in which the firm would serve as a long-range planning consultant to help update the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.

“We have no interests at this point in time, there’s no administrative recommendation to the board for looking at bond issue and/or tax increases or tax levies in the near future,” Ricker told the Call.

Ricker said that if the board approves the agreement, UNICOM/ARC would help facilitate a public engagement process to develop the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, which would encompass programming, facilities, finances, technology and other aspects in the district’s long-range planning model.

Board members were scheduled to consider the UNICOM/ARC agreement during a meeting Monday night — after the Call went to press — which had been rescheduled from Jan. 27 because of inclement weather.

“I don’t want to give anybody the impression that the UNICOM/ARC or the long-range planning has anything to do with tax levies or bond issues. It has to do with long-range planning,” Ricker told the Call. “Now, as a result of that planning, if the committee or the community comes out and says, ‘We need to invest itself,’ that’s for the board to consider. But at this point in time, the administration is not coming forward with anything other than a planning model.

“And, in fact, what you’ll hear in the budget conversation, the budget workshop, is how do we use our existing budget and reduce our expenditures for this year and gain more balances,” he said, noting board members also were scheduled to discuss this and next fiscal year’s budgets during the Feb. 2 meeting,” Ricker continued.

“And (we’ll discuss) what are we going to do to plan the budget for next year to reduce expenditures, so there’s nothing in that budget development coming from the administration that talks about enhancing revenues by tax levies and/or facility capital projects for bond issues. You won’t hear that coming from us. The community has to help us make that decision. That’s not a decision that we make. And if we want to know what the community wants, we’ve got to engage them,” he added.

The Mehlville School District employed UNICOM/ARC in 2000 for a public engagement process that resulted in the development of a facilities master plan.

In August 2000, the Board of Education voted to accept the facilities master plan, which was placed on the November 2000 ballot as the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program. Mehlville voters approved a 49-cent tax-rate increase to fund Proposition P, then estimated to cost nearly $68.4 million. The board this September approved a revised Proposition P budget totaling more than $86.7 million.

Asked if any discussions had taken place exploring how the district would fund the district’s second phase of capital improvements, Ricker answered, “Nope. That’s what this group will do.”

“As you remember, months ago, there was the question of what do we do with the additional money that’s generated from the 49 cents. The commitment on the board at this point in time is to finish the projects of phase I and then determine if anything happens after that.”

He continued, “We’ve always said that there’s a multitude of options with that, including giving the money back, including looking at additional projects. But none of that will be decided until after all of these first-phase projects are done, based on the direction the board’s given us, which I totally agree with.”

In 2000 UNICOM/ARC charged the district $10,000 for the nearly yearlong public engagement process, while the proposed contract for a 2004 public engagement process would cost the district $3,000 a month, totaling at least $30,000 for a process that was scheduled to begin in January and end in October.

The district is being charged more, Ricker said, because it will attempt to engage the public beyond just facilities, like it did during the process for Proposition P.

Developing the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan will require much more engagement, he said.

“It’s the whole program, not just facilities. There’s a larger scope in the work,” Ricker said. “The other thing is their notoriety for community engagement has been enhanced immensely over the last, now over five years.”