Review panel begins addressing questions about Prop P

Committee meets again Monday, Nov. 13 at Mehlville administration building

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of the Mehlville School District’s Proposition P Review Committee recently began fulfilling one of their charges — addressing questions about the districtwide building improvement program submitted by the community.

Nearly 100 questions about the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program were submitted to the committee by the Oct. 18 deadline for questions. The majority of the questions were submitted by Board of Education Vice President Karl Frank Jr., and his wife, Elaine. Two other residents also submitted questions about Proposition P.

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 improvement program envisioned six years ago.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in June to approve a motion by Frank and seconded by board member Tom Diehl to establish the Proposition P Review Committee. In part, Frank’s motion states, “The Proposition P Review Committee will first seek input from the community by soliciting questions from the public in written form to be individually addressed in the final report. The submitted questions, as well as any other areas that the committee members should find necessary to review, will become the basis of this committee’s charge.”

Besides Frank and his wife, Oakville residents Paul Goldak and Felix Martin submitted questions. The nearly 90 questions submitted by the Franks cover 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.

Asked about the questions he submitted, Karl Frank told the Call, “The questions that I submitted to the Prop P Review Committee are a compilation of questions that I put together after dozens of conversations that I had with past and current administrators and school board members, people in the construction industry, school auditors, CPAs, district residents, tradespeople, public and private school parents, past and present classroom teachers and my wife.

“My list of questions were the result of a couple years of research, and I believe they are the questions that need to be answered so that we can know what really happened with Proposition P — to properly put it to bed and to protect the Mehlville School District and its taxpayers in the future. If the questions that my wife and I submitted are answered by the Proposition P Review Committee, there will be no more questions about Proposition P for anyone to answer. The issue will be dead in the community’s eyes, and Mehlville will be able to continue its progress in the right direction.”

During their Oct. 23 meeting, committee members first continued their discussion of the construction management contract with McCarthy Building Cos. Inc. The committee previously reviewed an audit of Proposition P that was conducted last year by RubinBrown.

Reviewing the RubinBrown audit at the panel’s first meeting in September, committee member Al Kirchhofer noted the cost of construction management fees — $2.835 million in the original budget approved by the school board in October 2001 and actual expenditures of more than $7.415 million. More than $3.5 million of that difference was a result of the cost of reimbursable expenses.

Based on his review of documentation submitted by McCarthy in January 2003 for payment invoices, Kirchhofer on Oct. 23 questioned some of McCarthy’s expenses that were paid for by the district.

“… You’ll notice there’s a lot of expenses in there that I have questions on, like they spent over a thousand dollars on gifts … McCarthy ran a bill through, and the district paid for a repair on a vehicle that had 125,000 miles … We were paying for people’s mileage. We were paying people to drive back and forth to work. We had gas expenses …”

Committee member Debra Selinger said, “… I guess that was the question I had was because we don’t know what the contract was for the reimbursable part of it …”

Kirchhofer interjected, “It was everything. I mean whatever they decided …”

He later asked Brent Bell, interim chief financial officer who is serving as district liaison to the committee, about Mehlville’s current policy with regard to invoices.

“Those would all go through the board. Any check the district writes goes through the board,” Bell said. “The difference with these was the district did not actually write the check. That went through UMB (Bank), but what I don’t know, which, again, is back to our original question … is who did sign off on that? And I know, well, I say I know — I think the architect signed off and, of course, these were coming from McCarthy … who else, I need to look and see. There’s a page of various signatures, and I don’t know who all was on there and I didn’t realize that cover page didn’t get put in here. So I will find that out.”

At one point, Selinger said, “… I hate to say this, I have seen this before. When you have reimbursable expenses and you look at this, you get charged for every single thing. If they use a rubber band and they have to go out and buy another pack, every rubber band has a code of what you get charged for it.”

Kirchhofer said, “… I found it very disheartening, especially with reading what they’ve done with the teachers as far as cutting recesses …”

Selinger said, “I know. I know — and cutting resources.”

Kirchhofer continued, “… Cutting back on recess and not having planning time and then you’ve got people going out and eating nice meals because I like — there’s nothing wrong with the restaurants they went to …”

Kirchhofer also cited furniture costs the district paid.

“… The other thing, too, is like buying furniture for $1,200. I mean, when’s the last time a teacher got a new desk around here? I mean this furniture here is dated. This is ’70s. So I mean and these guys are construction guys, they’re going to beat the hell out of the furniture and they’re buying new furniture,” he said.

Selinger said, “That’s why they buy new furniture because they tear it apart and they figure it’s torn apart on the job and so it has to be reimbursed. It’s the same thing with their truck. When you use the whole travel expense thing or transportation expenses is because I’m using this vehicle on your project for a three-year period probably, so anything that goes wrong with it is a result of that project and that’s why you have to pay for it.”

Kirchhofer asked, “Well, what about like to and from work? Does your employer pay you to drive to work?”

Selinger said, “No.”

As they began to address the questions submitted, committee members concluded Oct. 23 the McCarthy contract was approved by the Board of Education on May 29, 2001, when then-Superintendent John Cary submitted the contract and another Proposition P-related item to be considered by the board as part of its consent agenda. The board added the two items to the consent agenda, which was unanimously approved, according to the meeting minutes.

But Mehlville officials in the fall of 2003 had told the Call that the McCarthy contract was approved by the board on Nov. 13, 2000, when board members approved the selection of McCarthy as construction manager for Proposition P and moved to direct administrators to “negotiate and develop a contract with McCarthy Construction.”

In an article written by then-Call Staff Reporter Alyson Raletz on Oct. 9, 2003, then-Chief Financial Officer Randy Charles said that while he “thought” the board had approved the McCarthy contract, “The assumption you are making here is that the contract must be formally approved by the board in its final form and I don’t know if that is true.”

The chief financial officer and the superintendent have the legal authority to contract on behalf of the district, Charles said. The article also reported that when then-Superintendent Tim Ricker was asked if the negotiated contract had to come back to the board for approval, he said, “My assumption is no.”

The committee is slated to meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.