Palamand, Felton elected to Mehlville board

By BURKE WASSON

The Mehlville School District now has two new school-board members as district voters last week elected Venki Palamand and Larry Felton.

Of six candidates, Palamand was the top vote-getter with 2,734 votes, or 24.97 percent of 6,484 votes collected in the April 3 election.

Felton received 2,264 votes, or 20.68 percent.

He and Palamand were elected to serve three-year terms on the school board and will replace outgoing board members Tom Correnti and Rita Diekemper — neither of whom filed for re-election this year.

Palamand and Felton were followed by Phil Black’s 2,007 votes, or 18.33 percent, Chris Brown’s 1,856 votes, or 16.95 percent, Randy Lowry’s 1,100 votes, or 10.05 percent and Mark Carter’s 836 votes, or 7.64 percent.

Reflecting upon his Election Day success as the voters’ top choice to serve on the school board, Palamand said he was grateful and also “pleasantly surprised.”

“You go into these elections and you just don’t know the outcome,” Palamand said. “It’s hard to predict where people will finish. So, on the one hand, I think I put in my time, I did the work, I reached out to the community. But, again, I could say I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Felton expressed an appreciation to voters for electing him alongside Palamand and said he hopes to acknowledge the hard work of numerous people who supported himself, other candidates and the school district as a whole.

“I’m just very appreciative of the support,” Felton said. “But I’m really appreciative of just how hard I see people work for all the candidates. The volunteers that we’ve got in this school district are just something else. And I think the more we do to recognize them and the more we can get them involved in community engagement and everything else, the horsepower’s there. Just how do we harness it?”

The district’s current community-engagement program, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — is in the process of being planned by its Facilitating Team of district residents, school-board members, students and administrators. The program’s first community-engagement session for residents to provide input on the school district’s future direction will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 16, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

At the end of the process, the Facilitating Team will hone all of the community’s suggestions into a summary that will be delivered in May 2008 to the Board of Education.

Palamand said while he realizes the school board sets and approves the actions toward district improvement, he would do his best to follow through on the executive summary of residents’ wishes.

“I’d like to stick to as much of the community-engagement results as possible,” Palamand said. “But, of course, we’re limited in our budget. I mean, every district’s limited in their budget. Not just Mehlville’s. So I’m sure the wish list will be long, and we’ll try to implement as much as we can within the constraints and the revenue base that we have at Mehlville.”

Felton said he would treat the results of the public-engagement sessions fairly and do his best to support the big picture of what residents suggest in the summary prepared by the Facilitating Team.

“I think their challenge is going to be taking 10, 15, 20 different slices of information and then bringing it back into a nice, consolidated commentary on what they’ve heard and an action plan on what this means to the board and to the district,” Felton said. “What’s the community saying are the top 10 things we’ve got to look at? How quickly do they think we ought to get to them? What do they perceive as the barriers that are keeping us from making progress?”

As for the work that he feels he can accomplish now on the school board, Palamand said he plans to propose an endowment program through the Oakville-Mehlville Foundation in which businesses and residents can donate funds to the district if they wish.

With this plan, Palamand said the district would only use the interest on those donations and hopefully raise enough funds to prevent or limit any overall tax increase in the future.

“I’d like to bring fund raising within the umbrella of the district itself and try to build an endowment model, such as those that private universities like Harvard, Yale, Washington University use,” Palamand said. “And the concept behind that is you give a gift, for example, let’s say we reach out to a local business and the business gives a gift of a thousand dollars. We never touch the thousand dollars. We only work off the interest. And that’s an endowment model for revenue generating for the school district. So literally, you can go to business, individuals and say ‘Give a gift that will give forever.’

“Whether it’s a hundred dollars a year, a thousand dollars once, $10,000 once for a large enough company. They can give a gift that the principal will never be touched and we live only off the interests. And if we can create a model similar to what Harvard, Yale, Wash U does, we can create an additional source of funding where we don’t have to keep badgering the taxpayers for more and more eventually. It will take time, but that kind of model can generate significant revenue. It may take five years, it may take 10 years to make a real impact. But that way, people can contribute what they want to contribute. All their donations are a hundred percent tax deductible. And I think that’s a great way to get the community involved.”

Felton said he would first like to prioritize the district’s needs and attach funding costs to them.

Once that is accomplished and the board has a true picture of what it can afford, Felton said board members could more easily determine what additional projects they would like to fund.

“I really think the board needs to have a good idea of what our fixed financial costs are,” Felton said. “I mean, that’s kind of what I’ve talked about the whole time.

“Personally, I want to know what our financial commitments are for the long haul for the buildings and the equipment and the curriculum. If you have that, then you’re in a much better position to understand how do we improve compensation for our teachers and our professional staff? That’s where I’m coming from. That’s what’s really important to me. That’s what I’d like to bring to this district. Re-emphasize doing a little more planning up front so we’ve got a better context. I really believe that if this board is given good information, it’s going to make good decisions.”