Lindbergh Schools’ purchase of the former Johnny’s Market site to construct a new Central Office building will benefit the district for many decades to come, according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.
Yet the district’s purchase of the 2.2-acre site at 11555 Gravois Road at a cost of $1,663,603 has come under fire at recent Board of Education meetings, including the Aug. 9 meeting.
At that meeting, resident Basil Pappas, parent of a district teacher, called for the Board of Education to fire Simpson and Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett, after alleging improprieties with the purchase of the property.
Board of Education members fully support Simpson and Triplett, according to President Kathy Kienstra.
Criticism of the property purchase began in May, roughly the same time district teachers began expressing their dissatisfaction with a 1.25-percent salary increase.
Teachers voted in late May to reject the raise, which was approved by the board in June.
Besides the amount of the raise, teachers were unhappy because they did not advance a step on the pay schedule for having another year of experience.
To provide for step increases, an average 3-percent pay raise is needed to fund the pay schedule.
Teacher salaries for the current school year range from $39,234 to $87,834.
Potential stipends available to teachers include an additional $2,500 per year for earning National Board Certification and an additional $3,000 per year for earning a doctorate degree.
In July, Lindbergh National Education Association President Kim Scronce announced teachers will work to contract until they see “significant progress” on a series of demands the union has made.
At the May board meeting, the district’s purchase of Johnny’s was criticized by resident Ron Zytniak. Zytniak’s wife, Ann, is the mother of a Lindbergh teacher. Ron Zytniak reiterated his criticism of the property purchase at the July board meeting.
“Johnny’s Market was widely reported in the paper for months and months with absolutely zero — with absolutely zero — concerns,” Simpson told the Call. “The concerns coincide with a few people who are enmeshed in the struggle for the teachers’ union to really pressure the board to increase their wages, to increase their salaries.”
The purchase of the property is a critical piece in addressing the aggressive enrollment growth Lindbergh is facing, according to Simpson. For the new school year, district officials project an increase of over 300 students, bringing total enrollment to nearly 6,700 students.
Lindbergh’s Central Office currently is housed at Lindbergh High School, and occupies roughly 20,000 square feet there.
A new two-story, 24,000-square-foot Central Office building will be constructed on the former Johnny’s site, restoring eight to 10 classrooms at the high school to address the surging enrollment.
The new Central Office building will serve the district well for many decades, Simpson said.
“Johnny’s Market sits in the center of our school district and, of course, Central Office must be in the center of your school district because it’s the come-and-go place for all the teachers, all the community,” he said. “Johnny’s Market also sits on the two roads that define our school district, and that’s Sappington and Gravois. So it’s not only in the center of our district, it’s at the apex of the major arteries of our district …
“That Central Office will go two lifetimes maybe there. It will go for many decades and it will serve this district in outstanding ways.”
The Board of Education is scheduled to consider awarding a bid for the construction of the new Central Office building when it meets Tuesday, Sept. 13.
District officials have been criticized for practically every brick-and-mortar decision they’ve made to address growth, according to Simpson.
“Every brick-and-mortar (project) we’ve built is to handle the tremendous number of new students that are coming in, and yet, it’s gotten tangled up in terms of ‘I’m mad about money, so now I want to come at you in this direction,’” he said.
In July, Ron Zytniak was critical that the Lindbergh Link reported the district saved $76,397 by purchasing the site from Meland Properties LLC at less than the certified appraisal price of $1.74 million.
He also contended Lindbergh overpaid for the property. When Meland Properties bought Johnny’s for $900,000 in 2014, the county had appraised the site’s value at $867,400, he noted.
However, Simpson said that the county’s appraised values for properties seldom reflect market value.
“… They are wildly not what your real estate is worth and most people are pretty happy about that because they pay lower taxes,” he said. “If your property could be purchased for true value of what’s on the county’s tax rolls, then that would be something the district would love because taxes would be more in line with what value is, but as you can see, it’s not that way.”
For example, the superintendent cited a Festus-based construction company’s recent purchase of 29 acres in Oakville for $3.2 million. Goodwin Brothers Construction Co. bought the property at 4855 Baumgartner Road from Fred Weber Inc.
The county’s appraised value of the site was more than $2.3 million.
At the August board meeting, Pappas contended the appraisal the district received from AB Valuation Services of Union was “substantially flawed,” noting Dan Jones of Meland Properties recommended the appraiser.
He cited an email from Jones to Triplett regarding obtaining an appraisal that stated, “… We can order one to make sure it appraises for the contract price.”
Simpson noted Circle K had a $1.75 million contract with Jones to purchase the former Johnny’s property, contingent on obtaining zoning from the county for a gas station and car wash. But a bill to approve the gas station without a car wash later was dropped from consideration by 5th District County Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights.
Because of the contract with Circle K, Simpson said Jones knew the appraised value of the property.
“Dan Jones knew what he had … and he knew that appraisal would hold up,” Simpson said, adding, “When national corporations are going to pay you this much for a piece of property, that’s the value of the property. There’s no different levels of value. That’s what that property is being appraised for by Circle K. They’re a smart company. They’re not interested in overpaying for anything …”