Mehlville school board tables charge statement for group studying bond issue

Board will wait to form study group until community survey is finished

By BURKE WASSON

Pending results of a survey of Mehlville School District residents have delayed the charge for a group designed to study the possibility of a bond issue.

The Mehlville Board of Education agreed Dec. 14 to table voting on a charge statement for that group until the Unicom-ARC survey is completed. Interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers said the survey could be submitted to the board by its next meeting on Jan. 17 at the Oakville High School Library.

Board member Rita Diekemper originally made a motion last week to approve that charge statement, but rescinded that motion when board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. said he could not vote to support the charge at that time. Frank said he would rather wait to pass a charge statement until the board can better gauge public sentiment toward a potential bond issue from the community survey results.

Chambers, who told board members that he would like a 7-0 vote on the charge statement, said after the Dec. 14 meeting that he understands the delay and that Unicom-ARC representatives would attend the board’s Jan. 17 meeting to explain the survey results.

“On reflection, I feel OK about it,” Chambers said. “I have talked to all seven board members. They’re all very supportive of Unicom and what Unicom is trying to accomplish. And the more I’ve talked to board members, I realize that some just think it’s not a bad idea to slow down that second part a little bit — that community-engagement part.

“Let’s focus on this survey. And then I think they want to meet with Unicom before we go forward with the community-engagement piece. So on reflection, I’m supportive of altering our course a little bit. And I’ve assured Unicom that all seven board members are very supportive of what they’re trying to do.”

The board voted Nov. 15 to award bids to Unicom-ARC for the community survey and the public-engagement process. Unicom’s bid for the community survey was $21,750, and the firm’s bid for the public-engagement process includes a monthly fee of $4,000 to $6,000 for roughly six months, including professional fees.

Reimbursables like printing, video production, travel and graphic design will be billed at cost.

The school board also decided last week to hire Banc of America Securities to provide underwriting services to restructure the district’s debt. The board voted 5-1 to approve that agreement. Frank, who again said he would like to wait for the results of Unicom’s survey before making any move to restructure debt, voted against the proposal. Board member Micheal Ocello abstained.

Banc of America was chosen over A.G. Edwards and L.J. Hart & Co.

The district previously identified technology, buses and facilities as three areas that need to be improved from the possibility of a no-tax-rate-increase, general-obligation bond issue.

At a June board meeting, former Chief Financial Officer Stephen Keyser handed out a draft of a proposed $23.5 million general-obligation bond issue.

As previously discussed by board members, the district’s debt-service tax rate would stay at 34 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. But that debt service would be extended for a period of time yet to be determined.

Depending on the time of year that its election would take place, the district would need either a four-sevenths majority or two-thirds majority to pass the potential bond issue.

But before any bond could be put before voters, the district’s community-engagement process must be carried out.

Chambers said that once the charge statement is approved, the district would be selecting members and scheduling times for the community-engagement group to meet.

“We’re hoping to pick some of the participants and the leaders in January,” Chambers said. “And of course, community engagement should be an ongoing process. But this formal part of setting it up and reaching out in many different forums and meetings will take place in February and March.”

Chambers added that the community-engagement meetings probably would take place at the Oakville Senior High School library and various northern parts of the school district.

With the survey results expected to be presented to board members in January, Frank told board members that he might be open to waiting a few months to begin the public-engagement group meetings.

“Let’s just say the survey came back and it’s atrocious,” Frank said. “At that point, we could decide maybe we need to wait three to six months before we even start the public-engagement process. Why are we already setting the wheels in motion when we don’t even really know for sure what we’re working with?”

“But the public-engagement process at that point would be to talk about if things were atrocious,” Diekemper responded. “That’s all the more reason to, you know, address it quickly than to wait. I mean, that’s what the community-engagement process is going to do. And they’re going to use the community input. They’re going to use this community survey. That’s their tool. That’s going to be a community-engagement tool. It’s not in and of itself.”

Diekemper also reminded board members that the community-engagement committee cannot meet until the board approves its charge statement.

“We have to have a long-range plan,” Diekemper said. “That committee is in place already. And that committee needs to be meeting on a regular basis. And this is about a committee, tweaking it, moving it forward. That should be part of our ongoing process all the time.”

“And I agree with that statement,” Frank said. “But my whole request since day one was that we do a survey before we make any of these kind of decisions of what we’re going to do.”

“I’m comfortable with us just working with them (Unicom) and not doing the charge,” Chambers said.

“I like where we’re at and I like what they want to do,” Frank said. “I just don’t want to give them any kind of charge.”

“I think they just want something from the board, even if it’s a one-sentence charge,” Chambers said.

“But if somebody calls and says they want to be on that committee, what are we going to do?” Diekemper said.

“I see what Karl’s saying, though,” board member Tom Diehl said. “That survey might give us some indication as to what we should want them to do.”

Board President Ken Leach then recommended to the board that if there was not going to be a unanimous vote on the charge statement for the public-engagement group, it might be best to wait.

“I think it’s an issue if we’re not all seven together on the same thing,” Leach said. “So if that is the issue, then we probably should forego it because I don’t think we all seven would be together.”

“I don’t like to vote yes for something just for the sake of all seven board members,” Frank said.

“I just have a hard time with it. And I’m not prepared to vote,” he added.