Mehlville superintendent says he accepts ‘personal apology’ from Correnti

Correnti raises concerns about condition of bleachers, floor at Mehlville High gym


Interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers has accepted Mehlville Board of Education Secretary Tom Correnti’s “personal apology” for remarks Correnti made last week during a board meeting.

During a Feb. 13 discussion of moving an alternative-education program to the former St. John’s Elementary School, board President Ken Leach moved his chair between Chambers and Correnti after Correnti ignored Leach’s pleas to restrain his comments.

Correnti had raised concerns about the condition of the floor and bleachers at Jones Gymnasium at Mehlville Senior High School — concerns Chambers said he was unaware of because he and his wife, Jackie, were out of the country celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. At one point during the discussion, Correnti said to Chambers, “You want to walk out?”

Contacted by the Call, Chambers issued a statement regarding the incident, but declined to comment further.

That statement, in part, said, “Tom Correnti gave me a personal apology and handshake immediately after the meeting. Even though we don’t always agree, Tom and I have always shown respect for one another. This incident was a result of a lively, prolonged discussion and reflected the passion that Tom holds for Mehlville School District. The meeting went on too long, in my opinion. Tom had just inquired about my long ride home in the late hours and in the sleet and snow. We have had a good relationship …

“I consider the brief encounter a closed subject and look forward to working with Tom and all seven board members in advancing the Mehlville School District as much as possible and as soon as possible.”

Correnti was unavailable for comment before press time.

At one point during the discussion of moving Project SCOPE — South County Opportunities for the Purpose of Education — from its current location at Grasso Plaza in Affton to the St. John’s site, Correnti said, “I’m voting no against this whole project. I will tell you right now I’m voting no against moving SCOPE to St. John’s. Is that what you want to hear? I’m voting no against it. I will stand fast at no. I don’t vote for moving this SCOPE to St. John’s …”

Chambers said he appreciated Correnti’s candor, and Correnti reiterated that he would vote against the proposal.

Board member Cindy Christopher said, “And I will tell you I’m seriously concerned about opening a building that we haven’t used in 10 years … I don’t know how I’d vote, to be honest with you …”

Noting that she has requested funding for a facilities study to be included in next year’s budget, Christopher said, “I would prefer to wait until — if we could do that financially. I would prefer to wait until we have a full-blown facilities study to see what our classroom openings and availabilities are. See if there’s another place that already exists that would be as good or maybe better. I contend there’s better possibilities than that building and that particular piece of property, and I think, you know, we had some viable alternatives when we tried to sell that property. And there — I still think that there are viable alternatives to do that …”

Those “viable alternatives” would be a “whole new subject,” she said, later adding, “… I don’t disagree that we need to do this … I just want to make sure that we don’t already have an existing building that is up, functional and in much better shape that we can use …”

Chambers said, “I appreciate these comments. Now we know how people stand. We didn’t know until right now. We had 7-0 votes …”

The administration is proposing to fund the cost of the St. John’s project out of the projected operating-fund balance.

Correnti said, “… We’re talking about dipping in. We have a statement where we’re going dipping in. Does anybody not realize we have condemned bleachers that we missed an academic achievement night at — in our building at Mehlville Senior High … We have nails — I walked on them last night — protruding out of the floor at the main gym. Well, I want to dip into the reserves and get that.

“I want a new floor for the safety of our children and I want functional bleachers at Mehlville Senior High so we can have full activities. I mean if we’re going to dip into that, I think — if we’re going to dip in and put SCOPE kids over there for that, then I want our kids over here at Mehlville Senior High to be rewarded with new bleachers and a new gym floor because we’re talking — we’ve closed down our entire gym. Did you know we closed down our entire gym because the bleachers were condemned at Mehlville Senior? Did you remember that? Hello?”

Chambers said, “No, I think you did facilities studies …”

Correnti interjected, “This was two weeks ago — two weeks ago they condemned it. Did you know that?”

Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost interjected, “It was last week.”

Correnti said, “Oh, I’m sorry — one week. Does anybody know that? Don’t look at me with a blank look. Do you not know it or not?”

Chambers said, “I wasn’t even in the country last week, Tom.”

Correnti said, “Do we understand? We have condemned bleachers. What are we doing to solve that? Condemned bleachers, and we rigged them up just to get our kids in there for Senior Night for basketball last night. What are we doing about that, Mr. Platz? Are we doing anything about that? What about putting the — are we going to hammer the nails back in? We’re talking about dipping in our reserves. Are we going to dip in the reserves to get new bleachers in at Mehlville Senior High and a new floor? Yes or no?”

Noting that he would speak for Director of Operations and Maintenance Rick Platz, interim Director of Support Services Keith Henry said that the problems with the high school gym were a concern, “but our charge isn’t to determine what to spend the money on or what not to spend it on. Our charge is to …”

Correnti interrupted, “Safety — safety for children.”

Chambers and Correnti continued to exchange comments with Chambers asking Correnti if he had contacted an administrator upon learning of the situation.

“The building principal knew about it,” Correnti said.

Chambers said, “OK. So you did raise the issue.”

“Raise the issue? MUSIC (Missouri United School In-surance Council) told us to close it down — MUSIC,” Correnti said.

Knost interjected, “We made that decision.”

Correnti said, “And don’t give me that look.”

Leach said, “OK. Hey. Tom …”

Correnti interrupted, “Don’t look at me like right now — don’t give me that look like I’m an idiot.”

Leach said, “Tom.”

Correnti continued, “You understand.”

Leach continued, “Hey, Tom. Please, if you respect …”

Though Chambers had not moved, Correnti interjected, “Back him off of me.”

Leach said, “You know, I’m just trying, you know, if you respect me, please …”

Correnti interrupted, saying to Chambers, “You want to walk out? What are you doing?”

Leach said, “Tom.”

Correnti continued, “You got something you got against me or something?”

Leach said, “Hey, come on, Tom.”

Correnti said, “Look at …”

“I’m going to switch places … move over please,” Leach said as he moved his chair between Chambers and Cor-renti, who later said, “That’s the same look he gave you last meeting.”

Leach replied, “You know what, that’s all right … Sometimes you got to step back and take a breath.”

Board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. said, “… My perception of this thing is that, you know, we’ve got some board members that are for it and some that aren’t. So we just need to haven an up-or-down vote on whether we’re for having …”

Christopher said, “… I’m not willing to vote on whether I’m for St. John’s or not. I’m saying I want to explore other things. I don’t think we’ve done that yet.”

Frank said, “… We’ve got the administration here. The administration has brought this and said this is a good idea, and if we’ve got four board members that say we want to do it, then that’s what we do. We just say it.”

Christopher said, “Are you suggesting, Mr. Sunshine Law, that we are adding something to the agenda?”

Frank said, “No. No … We can come back next week and do it.”

Christopher said, “… OK, good. I was just worried. I thought you fell off your horse for a minute …”

Regarding the bleachers, Knost later said, “… What happened, just so we’re real clear, is we were getting some estimates, and a salesman giving us an estimate put in writing to encourage us that he felt those bleachers needed to be shut down. Whether it’s a salesman, an insurance person, whoever, we hear comments like that, we take them seriously. We made a phone call and explained that to our insurance company, and they said until we can get further data, you would be wise to shut down. We never argued with them. We did shut down, erring on the side of safety.

“What we found out when we had someone come out to inspect, that was not a salesman, that they did not need to be condemned, that they could be addressed and they did. Now that didn’t mean we took it off the front burner. It’s still very, very important and it’s on that list, and we have plans to accomplish that …”