A majority of Mehlville Board of Educa-tion members last week rejected a review of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program by an independent committee, opting to solicit proposals from certified public accountants to audit the building program.
The board voted 5-2 to defeat a “substitute” motion by Karl Frank Jr. to have Prop-osition P reviewed by both an independent committee and a CPA. Besides Frank, board member Ken Leach voted in favor of the motion. Opposed were President Rita Diekemper, Vice President Bill Schorn-heuser, Secretary Mike Heins, Cindy Chris-topher and Tom Correnti.
Frank originally had sought an independent panel to review Proposition P May 12, but five board members voted against the proposal, while Leach abstained.
After that meeting, district administrators and Diekemper formulated a motion to solicit requests for proposals from CPAs to conduct an independent audit of Propo-sition P. On May 26, Schornheuser made the motion, seconded by Christopher, to seek proposals from CPAs to conduct an independent audit of Proposition P. But after Diekemper called for discussion on Schornheuser’s motion, Frank introduced the substitute motion calling for the formation of both an independent committee to review Proposition P and to seek proposals from CPAs for an independent audit of Proposition P.
After discussion, board members tabled the substitute motion to the June 16 meeting at which Frank said a review of Propo-sition P by an independent committee was needed to regain the public trust and move the school district forward. Without such a review, Frank contended, future efforts to acquire additional funding from the community would be certain to fail.
But board members opposed to Frank’s motion countered that any further review of Proposition P is unnecessary, as Frank’s proposal would duplicate much of the work of the Proposition P Oversight Com-mittee whose membership still includes two board members, Diekemper and Cor-renti. Schornheuser suggested scrapping both review proposals because “we did things right this time.”
Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate in-crease. However, the Board of Education voted in November to approve a revised Proposition P budget of $88,927,440.
The revised Proposition P budget represents a roughly 30 percent increase — more than $20.5 million — over the $68.4 million building improvement program envisioned in 2000.
During the board’s discussion last week, Frank said, “In regards to an audit by a CPA, unless the proposed committee feels like it is necessary to help them in their investigation, I believe personally that it is worthless and it is just another example of a waste of money because most believe that a kind of an audit like that has already been done. In order to set things straight with the public again, Mehlville needs to provide complete transparency to their operation. An auditor, especially in today’s business climate, whether trustworthy or not, does not have the confidence of the public that Mehlville currently needs.
“Operated correctly, the public can feel comfortable with this transparent position I am proposing. This right now I believe is a very pivotal time for the Mehlville School District. We’re at a crossroads and it is no secret that Mehlville needs more money. This board has the opportunity tonight to do this right or we can try to bury this and have it come back and haunt us at every election for years to come,” he continued.
“What I’m doing is I’m going on record tonight just to say that I cannot support putting any kind of tax measure on the ballot until Proposition P is put appropriately to rest. Any attempt at acquiring additional funding from the public is certain to fail. Because of this eminent failure, I will not in good conscience push the parents, teachers, students and financial backers of this community to work for this funding.
“In closing, I will tell you this: Anything less than this committee will be construed as a cover-up by the public. Whether there’s anything to hide or not, that is what the majority of the public will think, proven not by me, but by the ballot. So Madam President, you’ve asked for a professional motion at previous board meetings and now you have one on the floor. Thank you,” Frank said.
Christopher said she personally believes “there have been a lot of looks and discussion on this topic. I don’t personally see a need for it. However, I do think that there is a group of community members that would like to have a little bit more substantiation and I guess from a personal standpoint I hate to see the district spend any more money to look at this …”
But she said she “would certainly want to look at” a CPA firm performing an audit.
Heins said he was disappointed that Frank essentially has decided he won’t support any efforts to obtain more revenue from the taxpayers “unless we pass this proposal he has and I’m disappointed that he would tie the two together as a, as almost a threat, I guess.”
He also said, “I think we’ve done an ex-tremely good job as a district. I think any district would really be proud of the fact that none of their school board members directly profited from it, none of their administrators directly profited from it. The accounting from it was amazingly scrutinized. I mean if there’s one thing you got to say about the Call, they cover us. You may not like their opinion on it, but they cover us, so everything’s been out in the open. I think we’ve done an outstanding job …,” he said, thanking current and former board members for their work on Proposition P.
“My final thing is, no, I don’t think we need a committee on top of a committee on top of a board,” he said. “I think the board has done an outstanding job. People will not be happy — certain people will not be happy and that’s going to be it.”
Diekemper noted that since Proposition P was approved by voters in Novembers 2000, many personnel changes have occurred on the school board, in the administration and on the Oversight Committee.
“So I think that there has been and, you know, that’s not even including the CACF (Citizens Advisory Committee for Facil-ities), so I think that there have been in excess of, certainly in excess of a hundred people who have looked at — and Central Office is almost completely different, is it not?” she said. “So there’s been in excess of probably a hundred people that have reviewed this project …”
All the information regarding Propo-sition P is readily available, Diekemper said, “So I’m going to say that I’m going to choose to select an audit to be done by CPAs who are people who are trained and licensed. And some people may say well, they don’t like CPAs right now, but maybe those people should go to Congress or something because that’s what we’ve got in place in order to handle these things …”
Schornheuser said he believes that in no way, shape or form will 100 percent of the community ever be satisfied “with anything that we do on any given day and if we constantly from the inside fester doubt in people’s minds, that’s not good. I think the one thing that we have done over the last few years is we have provided this school district, this community, with an outstanding effort in Prop P, not only from its creation, not only from the public’s outpour on the voting, but then also with the magnificent changes in our facilities.
“As long as I’ve lived in this district, which is a pretty damn long time, this district has never been able to complete a project that they’ve promised to the community and this is one that we’re going to be able to do. We’ll actually have money left over. I find that amazing. I find that very satisfying. …
“I am sure if we sent 20 different groups in to look at things, they will find individual small things that could be improved, but I do not, for any reason, think that there is any reason to constantly keep reopening the books to look at anything regarding Prop P. We’ve done it a number of times. It’s getting old. We need to move on. We’re almost done with the project. It’s time to move on. We’re not going to satisfy everybody.
“As our marketing people and certainly the training I’ve had in the years past, 20 percent of the community are just naysayers and they’re always going to be there, you know, and, again, I don’t want to be held hostage by any board member or any part of the community to say we’ve got to find things wrong to show them that we’re going to do things right the next time. We did things right this time. That’s just the way it is. If we need more money in this district, I think we’re going to have to go out to the people, prove to it that we need it. Tell the naysayers go away, it’s our community, it’s not just yours. Get the money and get moving. We couldn’t do it down in Jeff City. We’ll keep trying to do it in Jeff City, but until that changes, this community’s got to stand up because if two things fail in a community, your churches and your schools, you don’t have a community any more and we’re not going to let the schools fail. I can’t help the churches, but they’ll take care of themselves. So as far as I’m concerned, I think we scrap both and let’s move on,” Schornheuser said.
While he didn’t agree with Frank 100 percent, Leach said, “I think the motion was written well. I think that it was — it has some validity to it and I agree with Bill as far as moving on. I really think that this is one thing that would help us move on … I think that Karl’s trying to do what he thinks is best and he’s entitled to his opinion. I think we’re all entitled to our opinion and I don’t think we should question — nor am I even trying convince anyone here. I’m just stating what I believe on this … But a couple of things that I differ on, a couple like — like, Mike (Heins), you said with committee on top of committee. I don’t see it that way. What I see it as being, you know, a very well-integrated plan where you have a pre-committee and then you have a current committee, and we did that. Basically the Oversight Commit-tee was like a current committee that followed the pre-committee. I mean if you took that same logic where you didn’t have committee on top of committee, we wouldn’t have done that either.
“So I think that you have a pre-committee, you have a current committee and now you have a post-committee. And this is, now this is the part I think is very touchy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you getting volunteers that are willing to look at this and if they take the time and they have the expertise and God only knows why people do that — sometimes I wonder why I do that, you know … I think there are people out there that exist that would do it and they would do a good job …”
Leach also agreed with Heins that all the people, both past and present, involved in Proposition P deserve thanks.
“They volunteered for a lot of work. They spent a lot of time away from their kids and family and they’re just trying to do the best they can, too. People make mistakes. I’ve made a lot. I’m going to make a lot here in the next three years,” he said. “I don’t think we should be afraid of those mistakes, though. I mean we’re just trying to do our best. I think that the community and the people are more understanding than we give them credit …”
While he believed Frank had made some good points, Correnti said he was “really upset” Frank would tie his motion to “not supporting any financial gains in the fu-ture.”
Correnti said he believed Frank’s proposal likely would duplicate the work of the Oversight Committee.
“… I liked everything they did and I trust in everything they did and I believe in everything they did. So if there is going to be a vote, I don’t see the need for any more conversation about Proposition P,” he said.
Frank thanked board members for their comments and said, “It’s not that I don’t support the tax increase, it’s that I think it’s futile … I think it’s a waste of energy unless certain things take place. This is one …”
Noting that several board members had mentioned the Oversight Committee, Frank said, “This is not about the Over-sight Committee per se. This is about the entire process, the entire procedure. How effective was the Oversight Committee? This is not just for us and not just to ex-press to the public, but it is also to provide guidance for future projects just as this … It’s not the people that should feel bad on the Oversight Committee. This is us going back, re-evaluating what happened and providing guidance for when we’re not on this board any more and there’s another similar project that comes up because we have clearly made mistakes …”
Schornheuser said, “You used the perfect word there, futile. I think this effort is futile. I do not think it’s going to change many people’s opinions in this community based on what happened in Prop P. That’s my opinion and that’s not going to change either.”
Board members voted 5-2 to defeat Frank’s motion and then voted 6-1 to approve Schornheuser’s original motion.