Parent surprised by ‘condescending remarks’

To the editor:

I attended the Mehlville Board of Educa-tion meeting on Jan. 12 and was surprised by what I felt were condescending remarks made by board President Rita Diekemper and board member Cindy Christopher.

The remarks were directed at those of us who had attended the meeting primarily to hear information about a proposal to install synthetic turf fields at the two high schools in the district. Ms. Diekemper’s remarks suggested that we were only interested in the one issue, and Ms. Christopher referred to the group as “a peanut gallery” organized to pressure the board regarding the issue.

Aside from the fact that such remarks only add to an already-poor public image, it was amazing to me that any board member would risk alienating even a small number of potential voters when those voters are being asked to approve a very important tax increase proposal for the district. At the same time, I must admit I was also disappointed that some of the people targeted by the remarks chose to shout back at the board members as they left the meeting.

It is true that I attended the meeting be-cause a friend had told me the turf topic would be on the agenda. Such turf fields have been installed at a couple of area Catholic high schools, and I was interested to learn whether or not this kind of im-provement to our athletic facilities would be financially feasible.

It was my understanding that information about the proposal would be provided, but I was not under the impression that the board was expected to vote on the matter at the meeting. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was not there to put pressure on the board nor was I asked to attend for that reason, as implied by Ms. Christopher.

In any event, I wouldn’t think that anyone on the board could possibly be pressured by “a peanut gallery” crowd of, at most, 40 people. In the end, while the turf topic was on the agenda, no new information was available and the topic was not officially discussed. It was this turn of events that led to some sniping between board members and the ensuing comments I referred to above.

Regarding the main topic discussed at the meeting, budget cuts, I was disappointed that the board, other than Mr. Frank, didn’t demand that all discretionary administrative expenses be examined for possible cuts before consideration of any of the task force cost reduction recommendations presented at the meeting.

Mr. Frank referred to these administrative expenses as “luxuries.” In today’s environment, I wouldn’t necessarily say that cell phone use, public relations, travel reimbursement or other administrative expenses are luxuries, but they are if the alternative is to cut teaching staff, charge for transportation, and/or increase student activity fees.

The cuts discussed at the meeting, it seems to me, will only punish the students and reduce the quality and attractiveness of the school district, which, in turn, will hurt property values.

As a parent of a student in the district, I’m willing to pay higher taxes to provide for first-rate academic instruction and ex-tracurricular programs, but I’d sure like to see a more positive approach to selling the tax increase, along with board members who would show a little more respect for their constituents.

Gerald M. Kulage