Prop P panel nears completion of its task

Committee answers what co-chair says ‘might be our most important question’


The Mehlville School District’s Proposition P Review Committee is nearing the completion of its task.

During their seventh meeting last week, committee members continued to address the nearly 100 questions submitted about the Proposition P district-wide building-improvement program, formulating tentative answers for almost every question.

Committee members indicated Jan. 29 that they would refine their answers to the questions and draft their recommendations during one or perhaps two more meetings. Questions members tentatively have answered address such areas as construction management, architectural and consulting contracts, “disclosure,” change orders, questions about specific projects, the Proposition P Oversight Committee and the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities.

Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. However, a final budget revision approved by the Board of Education in December 2005 raised the Proposition P budget to $89,137,440 — a roughly 30.3-percent increase — more than $20.7 million over the nearly $68.4 million building program originally envisioned.

At their Jan. 29 meeting, committee members discussed at length the following question: If the community is told that a tax levy/bond issue will raise a certain amount of money, and that tax levy/bond issue raises more money than originally believed, what should be done with that extra money? Is it ethical to spend that money without further public input and/or oversight?

“I think this might be our most important question …,” Co-chair Phil Barry said at one point during the discussion.

The tentative answer formulated by the panel was: “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Board of Education, as elected by the people, to determine how to handle any excess funds generated by a tax levy or bond issue. Communication is always necessary and, in the opinion of the Prop P Review Committee, it could have been better.”

During the discussion, Co-chair Kurt Witzel said, “I took sort of a very clinical sort of approach to it (the question). I said: Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the Board of Education as elected by the people to determine how to handle any excess funds generated by a tax levy or bond issue …”

Barry said, “You put it right on the board, but see this is a loaded question, I think.”

Witzel said, “Well, I know, but …”

Barry said, “And the next thing: Is it ethical? Well, the board, so we can complete the project, we had a little surplus of money. Today we couldn’t do what we’d done, that’s the whole reason we’re here, I think.”

Committee member Dave Thompson said, “The board’s elected by the people.”

Committee member Greg Hayden said, “I think it’s ethical as long as it’s disclosed.”

Witzel said, “… My second thing was, is the ethical nature of how these additional monies are spent will be determined by the taxpayer. Whether or not the taxpayers see as what you’re doing as ethical or not is in their eyes.”

Committee member Ed Ryals said, “Because if you have an election to determine what you’re going to do with the money, you’re going to blow all your money anyway.”

Witzel said, “On the election.”

Barry said, “Well I think certain people that have talked to all of us … and they’re trying to trump maybe up some charge — I have to say this carefully. Should we have stopped, we meaning the district, the community, the school board and said: ‘Hey, we have X amount of money, do you want to continue? Again, should we go a vote of the people? What do you want to do?’ A decision was made by the board, which I kind of agree with: Let’s go forward, finish our projects. Thank God, we got a little too much money and it worked out well, and not that many people are that upset …”

Witzel said, “… I guess that’s the big question in this thing. I mean there were numerous times in that, in the Oversight Committee as well as other committees where that question was asked, and the administrators said: ‘Yeah, that’s something we need to do. We need to go back and engage the community and ask.’ And it was never done … The administrators decided and the board either decided or didn’t decide by inaction to go back to the community and ask that question.”

Committee member Lisa O’Donnell said, “But honestly, how do you do that? How do you go back to the public and say: ‘We have … a million dollars. What do you want us do with it?”

Witzel said, “That’s exactly what they did with the CACF. They said: ‘Here are our buildings. What do you want to do with them and the district got input from that CACF process.”’

Thompson said, “Well, the reality of the whole thing is you say — you tell somebody we have these projects that we want to build. Now we need $68 million. Here’s a bond issue. Everybody votes. OK. It passes. We’re going to raise exactly $68 million and then we’re going to spend exactly $68 (million). That doesn’t exist. It never will.”

Barry said, “We did that. Then with the sprinklers and the asbestos, that $68 (million) had to be more, and all of a sudden, thank God, we got more money.”

Thompson said, “Right.”

Barry said, “So we just continued on, which I kind of agree with.”

Thompson said, “Exactly.”

Barry added, “… Some people wanted us to stop. You should have got permission to continue.”

Witzel said, “… Personally, I don’t think it’s an issue of stop or go, spend or not spend. It was more of a communication thing … Here’s what we told you: ‘We told you it was going to cost $10 million to do this piece of the project … and we found it’s going to be $12 million. Now we have more than $2 million excess … and this is what we’re going to do. And if we don’t hear from you in the next two weeks, that’s what we’re going to do. And if we hear from the community that you’re totally against this, then we’ll talk some more.’ That never happened … It was never even talked about.”

Barry interjected, “… You see, I don’t know.”

Witzel continued, “I mean that’s my impression. You guys tell me …”

Thompson said, “I didn’t read or hear a lot of communications about problems that came up. I think they just handled the problem and just — knowing that they had the money available: ‘Let’s just fix this sucker and keep on moving.”’

Witzel said, “That’s exactly right.”

Thompson later said, “… Good, bad or indifferent, nobody likes to hear bad news, and I just don’t think that they wanted to put out bad news on what they missed because then that arises more questions. Well, why did you miss it?”

Witzel recalled that when he served on the board, Rogers Elementary School was built.

“… We said it was going to cost $6.2 million or whatever, and it ended up costing like $7 million because we hit rock, people came in and said: ‘I want to know why you missed the rock. How many core drillings did you do? Where did you do it and how did you miss that?’ And we actually ended up doing that, saying: Here’s the big plot. Here’s Rogers Elementary land and this is all the places we drilled, and this is where they found the rock …”

Barry later said, “… They didn’t know they were going to have the problem with the asbestos … They didn’t know they were going to have the problem with the sprinklers …”

Witzel said, “And those are the things that I think they would have been fine with had they said that. Had somebody said: We found asbestos. We had bad drawings. We had all this stuff that was bad when we made the estimates and it’s going to cost much more. Instead, nobody said anything. They just kept spending more money.”

As the discussion continued, Witzel said the issue is allowing the public to have input, but ultimately the Board of Education would make the decision.

Thompson said, “Complete disclosure with explanation. That’s all you need.”