Mehlville residents step up, chart school district’s path

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

Representatives of the Mehlville School District outlined to members of the Missouri School Boards’ Association last Friday how the “Mehlville Miracle” was achieved last year.

Deputy Superintendent Brian Lane and Board of Education member Kevin Schartner recapped the historic victory Mehlville achieved when Proposition R, a 49-cent tax-rate increase, was approved by nearly 73 percent of voters last November.

The stunning victory was unprecedented, as it shocked even those who expected it to pass. Prop R carried all four townships and every precinct across the district, a remarkable win that was accomplished without campaign consultants, who claimed it could never happen.

But Mehlville proved them wrong, as the district received unsurpassed buy-in from residents who overwhelmingly responded to the need that was clearly articulated by administrators, Board of Education members and community volunteers.

The presentation by Lane and Schartner serves as a primer for school districts statewide to achieve success at the ballot box — or as Lane quipped, “We’re going to tell you in five easy steps how to pass a tax levy in your district.”

We believe a key factor in Prop R’s success was the need demonstrated by the district, which was facing an $8 million projected deficit, and the reasonableness of the request, unlike two other tax-rate increase proposals that went down in flames — an ill-advised 97-cent proposition in 2006 and an equally inane 88-cent proposal in 2010.

In both cases, board members and administrators believed they knew what was best for the district — not residents.

As Lane said, “I saw too many times where we just assumed this is what the community wants — surely they want this, this is good stuff. We’re going to build this new building — they want that, don’t they? We do. Or they want technology, or they want full-day kindergarten. And then maybe we’d find out later, whether anecdotally or by actually surveying people, that it didn’t resonate with them.”

Because Prop R was driven by residents, no community-engagement events orchestrated by a pricey public relations firm were required.

The credit for the success of Prop R goes entirely to Mehlville residents, who stepped up and determined the path they wanted their school district to take.