More than 200 people filled the Mehlville Senior High School Library last week to show their support for the Board of Education’s recent decision to roll up the district’s tax rate.
Originally set for the boardroom in the Administration Building, the Oct. 12 meeting was moved to the high school library to accommodate the overflow crowd.
Roughly 25 speakers addressed the Board of Education to voice their support for the tax-rate roll-up and take board member Rich Franz to task for his opposition to the roll-up. Many of the speakers also criticized Franz for a remark he made at the Sept. 27 board meeting that “… this isn’t about the kids …”
One speaker called for Franz to resign from the school board, but Franz told the Call he has no intention of doing so.
At the Sept. 27 meeting, the board voted 4-3 to set the district’s 2011 tax rates, with Franz, Secretary Elaine Powers and board member Mark Stoner opposed. Mehlville’s overall “blended” rate, which is not levied but used for state calculations, is $3.6748, an increase of roughly 10 cents over the 2010 “blended” rate of $3.5763.
The tax-rate roll-up is a revenue-neutral action, meaning the district is projected to collect the same amount of tax revenue this year as last year under the provisions of the Hancock Amendment. However, some residents will pay the school district more in taxes and some will pay less based on the assessed valuation of their home.
Among the speakers last week were current and retired district teachers, parents and both co-chairs of the Committee to Restore the Pride, the organization that advocated passage of Proposition C, an 88-cent tax-rate increase that voters defeated last November.
Franz, along with Greg Frigerio and Ken Meyer, founded the Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association, which opposed Prop C.
Jim Schibig, who served as co-chair of the Committee to Restore the Pride and co-chair of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — said, “… Mr. Franz, you may represent the voices of some taxpayers in the district, but you certainly don’t speak for me. Mr. Franz, this is a school district and it is about the kids. People need to realize that an effective school requires money. Effective schools enhance the community.
“Mr. Stoner, please don’t tell me that money doesn’t make a difference in (the) operation of the school district. Please don’t compare the Mehlville School District to St. Louis Public Schools. That’s like comparing apples and oranges. If you’re going to make a comparison, make it relative. Compare us to Webster, Fox, Lindbergh and you can see what those districts have compared to us. Those numbers will tell you a totally different story.
“Board members come and go, but one constant in all this is kids …,” he added.
Jeff Clobes, who also co-chaired the Committee to Restore the Pride, thanked the four board members who voted to roll up the tax rate.
“Miss Powers, I was very disappointed that you chose to side with Mr. Stoner and Mr. Franz on voting ‘no’ on the tax roll-up. I voted for you because you were — I expected you to be my voice. That did not represent my voice. I was very disappointed in it …,” he said.
He noted that had the tax rate not been rolled up, the district would have lost roughly $1.2 million — “1.2 million, Mr. Franz. Ten cents a day. Ten cents a day is what you’re fighting for, sir. Asking the Mehlville school board to opt out of the PSRS (Public School Retirement System) is an insult to every teacher that’s in this room tonight,” he said to applause.
“The NEA does not own me. They did not pay me to say that. I am a parent of three kids that attend this school (district) and I fight for every one of these teachers because they fight for my kids. Threatening to take dental and vision insurance away from these people, from this district — what’s next on your agenda, sir, asking them to bring toilet paper to the workplace?”
Clobes also praised Schibig for his comments, saying, “… I wish I could just once be able to speak as eloquently as he does about how passionate he is about the kids. Jim and I were fortunate enough — or unfortunate enough, I guess — to co-chair Prop C. We were asked to co-chair Prop C for one reason: Because we both believe in kids. We are 100 percent about the kids of this district … It’s about the children. It’s not about you …”
Clobes later said, “… In my opinion, the district promotes an anti-bullying policy. Mr. Franz, you are bullying this board …”
In a news release emailed to the Call, Clobes was identified as a co-chair of the Mehlville Community Taxpayers for Mehlville, but during his comments he did not mention the group nor his affiliation with it.
Lemay resident Gary “Brit” Rose, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2009, said, “Mr. Franz, my wife and I are outraged when you made the comment … and I quote: ‘It’s not about the kids.’ Well sir, you’re wrong. While you’re sitting on the board, you’re supposed to make good decisions for the best interests for our students.
“Since you took oath, I have not seen any accomplishments on your part on making good decisions. Mr. Franz, it would be nice to see you start coming to the board meetings prepared. Now I believe you have not done your homework. Let’s start making good decisions, sir, and let’s turn that F to an A-plus. Mr. Franz, you do not represent my voice in this district and it is about our kids …”
Oakville resident Donna Seidel called for Franz to resign.
“… I am a taxpayer in the Mehlville School District, a parent and a community activist,” she said. “Mr. Franz, you most certainly do not represent me or my family. It is most certainly about the kids. They are the owners of this school district. We’re the taxpayers. We are the trustees. It’s every taxpayer’s responsibility to afford them the best education possible because they are the future.
“Your comments suggest that you view public education as a privilege instead of a right guaranteed by the state. Your comments suggest that the children of this community are overprivileged in respect to education. Nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t need to look any further than neighboring districts to see that’s an absolute fact. You personally have an even greater statutory responsibility as a member of this board and if you refuse to put kids first, then I suggest you resign your position immediately,” Seidel said to applause.
“I’d like to suggest that to any board member who cannot and will not support the students, the teachers and the staff, re-sign now. Your failure to act in their best interest is counterproductive and unwelcome. We needed to roll up the tax rate to maintain our academic programs. We need to pass an operating tax increase. We absolutely cannot absorb any further cuts that will impact the classroom …”
Oakville resident Jeff Heveroh said, “… There’s approximately 20,000 registered voters in the Mehlville district, including me, and you don’t speak for me. Hypocrisy, that’s what this is going to be about. A man who’s made a living on the back of taxpayers, working for different police districts. Now he’s a consultant. Now he wants to do a self-serving job of lowering this rate even more than it already is.
“Who’s the boss? I’ll tell you who the boss is. You’re not going to like this. It’s the state of Missouri. You know why? Because they’re the ones who dictate the rules that you seven have to live by and you seven push down on the 10,000 students every day — huge responsibility for a volunteer position …
Heveroh later said, “… Do the right thing, which is first and foremost every decision should be made for the benefit of those kids. Period. End of story. Elaine and Mark, again my name is Jeff Heveroh. (I) live in the district. I encourage you to stand up to that man. He doesn’t — he’s lived here for a couple of years. He’s never sent his kids to our school. You two do. Stand up to him. Venki, Tom, Larry and Ron, keep up the good fight and stay strong.
“One last thing. Rich, it is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” Heveroh added.
Regarding Seidel’s call for his resignation, Franz told the Call, “… Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I would be the last person to say that someone isn’t allowed to think I should resign or suggest it, but I certainly have no intention of doing that.
“My mandate from the voters back in April, which was a limited one I think, was to do what I could to restore credibility to the board — and not just me, but Mr. Stoner, too — to restore credibility to the board and to be a fiscal watchdog. And I think that in as much as we’re able to, we are accomplishing that, and if that’s why people feel I need to resign, they’re certainly entitled to think that, but that’s not going to happen.”
As for speakers’ comments at last week’s meeting, Franz said, “I thought they were reflective of the attitude that is shared by the majority of the people who supported Prop C, who supported the implied mandate of COMPASS I and COMPASS II and who believe that spending more money on education and specifically teachers’ salaries automatically leads to a better education for our kids.
“I think that’s a faulty thesis and I think those are the folks who spoke against me,” he continued. “And there’s another component there, too. So for a number of years, what I refer to as the educational bureaucracy has, I believe, influenced to a great degree the decision making of the school board, the Mehlville school board, and when Mark and I were first elected, I think that educational bureaucracy in the form of those folks I’ve already mentioned to the community — the teachers’ union, the administrators who feel forced or compelled to deal with us elected officials — I think they considered Mark and I an aberration.
“They considered us more of a distraction or annoyance than anything. But over the last few months, I think they’re a little agitated that we’ve had some success in bringing our mandated agenda to light and the comments we heard Wednesday night were a sign of their frustration.”