School-board candidates square off at forum on issues facing Mehlville

Staff with concealed-carry permits should be allowed to carry guns in school, two candidates say

By BURKE WASSON

Eight candidates seeking election to three seats on the Mehlville Board of Education shared their views on issues and challenges facing the school district during a forum last week.

Candidates vying for election April 8 are: current board Vice President Karl Frank Jr., Chris Brown, David Bertelsen, Linda Mooy, Drew Frauenhoffer, Deborah Langland, Marea Kluth-Hoppe and Erin Weber.

Incumbents Cindy Christopher and Ken Leach are not seeking re-election.

Issues discussed during the March 10 forum included fiscal stewardship, the district’s new synthetic-turf fields and whether guns should be permitted in schools.

Asked if there are areas that the district is not spending its money wisely, Brown, Mooy and Bertelsen listed several concerns while the five remaining candidates did not name any specific expenses they believed were unnecessary.

Brown said, “The option to spend $1.9 million for AstroTurf at both high-school football fields, that probably was not an issue or an area that we should have spent a lot of money on.

“Classrooms are more important,” Brown said. “We’re spending to revamp the St. John’s building. I’m not going to say that was the wrong move. But I think you jumped into it kind of quickly … Granted, it’s been stated that it came in under budget. But just right at the last board meeting, they mentioned we now have to go back and put in heating and air conditioning work. What’s going to come out of that in the future? I think we should have put in a little more time there. Other items would be the $170,000 plus that we’re wasting on the COMPASS meetings, including (consulting firm) UNICOM•ARC, the $50,000 that we are spending suing the taxpayers as well as we need to look at better avenues to get the (Mehlville) Messenger out. Right now, it’s a waste, I believe, of $10,000 a month when it could be done more effectively online.”

Responding to candidates’ assertions that the district has spent $50,000 on a lawsuit, Superintendent Terry Noble said Mehlville has spent a total of $60,084.50 since 2003 on membership in the Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools, which is trying to reform the state’s school funding formula.

Mooy said, “Past expenditures that I don’t totally agree with have been AstroTurf, St. John’s. Over at St. John’s, I think $800,000 was spent on renovating it … A couple weeks ago, the board approved another $90,000 to be spent on electricity and providing air conditioning for the gym. Definitely, it seems like those tax dollars should have been used to provide non-suspended Mehlville students with needed textbooks.”

Bertelsen said, “The big one I would say would be the lawsuit, which I think is counterproductive. It’s a legislative issue. It’s not a court issue. And even if we won, the other schools could just file suit and we could end up suing ourselves again. I would say the AstroTurf is a questionable thing. But there is no hope for a better yesterday, so I’m not saying go out and rip out the AstroTurf that’s there. I was referring more to in the future making sure that we look and make sure that the taxpayer gets the most value for their dollar.”

After Brown, Mooy and Bertelsen criticized the cost of new turf fields at Mehlville and Oakville high schools, Frank replied that he is proud of voting in favor of that move as it will save money over time.

“First of all, we didn’t put in AstroTurf at our schools,” Frank said. “AstroTurf was 30 years ago when they put it in at Busch Stadium and other places with concrete underneath carpet. We put in synthetic grass … advertised as something that reduces injury by 50 percent and the ones they did have were 50-percent less severe. And, according to our administration, we did have a dramatic decrease in injuries. If the field turf saved one kid from breaking their neck, I think it was well worth the expenditure. When I made the decision, I made it based on a business decision … You spend $90,000 to $100,000 a year with our grass fields and use them 10 times a year. Or spend $90,000 to $100,000 a year on synthetic grass to use each field 10 times as much that we didn’t use before … That was a business decision and it’s one of the decisions I’m most proud of.”

When candidates were asked whether they support guns in schools, only Bertelsen and Brown said they believe teachers and administrators who possess concealed-carry permits should be allowed to carry a gun.

“When the students went into Columbine, they waited until the one armed guard went on lunch break so they knew they would be unimpeded in their killing spree,” Bertelsen said. “There have been several instances where school administrators have run to their car, grabbed their weapon, come back to school and taken control of the situation when someone came in and tried to kill people. If you have a valid carry permit and you are trained, you are safe and if you’re an administrator, you should be able to carry your gun to school. It would be good for everybody …”

Brown said, “To receive a conceal-carry weapons license in the state of Missouri as well as 36 other states in the country, you have to go through background checks and training hours. So the fact that these folks are indeed knowledgeable in what they’re doing, they know the responsibility, I think that is an avenue that should be looked at because of the fact, as Dave just mentioned, some of these school shootings that have taken place could have been prevented if the element of not knowing who else can stop me was there. So it’s not an idea that I’d be opposed.”

But Frank said he believes allowing administrators and teachers to carry guns into school buildings would be a “major mistake.”

“It’s a well-known fact that you’re 20 times more likely to die by a gun if you own a gun …,” Frank said. “So to increase our children’s chances of something happening by 20 times by having firearms readily available in the school district, other than by our police officers, I think would be a major mistake … School shootings, while they are tragic, are incredibly rare … We have implemented security features, such as video monitoring at entrances and buzz-ins, especially at our elementary schools … We do want kids to have a chance to be able to defend themselves. But if we’re going to do that, I guess we’re going to have to open up our budget for flak jackets and bomb helmets … We’re here to teach our kids how to survive in society on a normal, everyday basis — not to scare them into fearing for their lives.”

When asked in closing remarks why they would make good board members, Weber said, “I will strive for academic excellence and safe and healthy schools in our district. And I think that we can do this with teamwork and fiscal responsibility. I also want to assure you that I will work with integrity to build our schools and our community.”

Kluth-Hoppe said, “I will strive for goals that include making student-centered decisions about curriculum, staffing and financing … offering a comprehensive and challenging curriculum … establishing a comprehensive planning and budgeting process … providing needed professional support and educational tools for students to be successful and needed staff development for teachers and encouraging the Mehlville community to participate in the educational process.”

Langland said, “I think the most important issue for this race or for any public office is that we choose the most qualified person for the job. In this case, we need people who can achieve the goals of the district and community in a nonpartisan position. And those are the key differences among the candidates — experience, proven track record and motives … When Cindy Christopher retires or steps down this year, all remaining board members will be serving their first term of office … We need members who are familiar with our challenges as well as having the skills and experience to get the job done. I feel I have that experience and I’m excited about the opportunity of working for you and with you and being the voice for you and your children.”

Frauenhoffer said, “Many of the children who are educated in this district will some time come home to roost as adults. So it’s important to remember that many students today are future members of the community … Our public school system should position our children to compete in the complex world we live in … The Mehlville schools obviously have an impact on the health and welfare of our community. So you have to ask yourself … in the long term, are we going to have a long, vibrant community or one that becomes stagnant or, worse, deteriorates? So as a lifelong resident of the Mehlville School District, my overall vision is to ensure that the children of the district achieve their full potential now and in the future.”

Mooy said, “I guarantee that I will do whatever I can to improve academic achievement for all the students … and make sure that all the teachers have the required tools and that the taxpayers’ money is wisely spent … As a retired federal-government budget officer, I will bring financial responsibility and accountability to the Mehlville board. I have worked with federal regulations for over 30 years.

“And I promise to bring honesty and integrity to the board … Everybody at this table knows that the plan is to put forth a proposition to increase taxes to the citizens. Everyone knows that. However … only three (candidates) said that they would vote against a tax increase. Everybody else said it depends. And to me, I bring honesty when I say no, I will not vote for a tax increase when I have knowledge that that plan exists.”

Bertelsen said, “… One of the challenges we face is to make sure we get all the parents involved … We need to get them into their child’s education and recognize that they are the first line of defense … The thing I think we need most is to make sure that the taxpayer out there, the person footing the bills and paying for all these rooms and everything, recognizes that they are getting the most value they can for the money. And when they recognize that, they might not be afraid to say, ‘Well, I might invest a little more.'”

Brown said, “… The key is being fiscally responsible. Spending needs to be under control. We need to make sure every dime put into the classroom is there … I look forward to be one to bring more financial responsibility to this district and being more transparent … I hope you join us in reforming the district to be more fiscally accountable.”

Frank said, “I believe the Mehlville School District is better off than it was when I was elected three years ago. And I believe I was a catalyst for that change. If you agree, I’d hope that you go and vote for me. I promise that I won’t allow guns in school.”