Spirit of cooperation can make Mehlville a model school district

Tom Diehl

Tom Diehl

By TOM DIEHL

It never ceases to amaze me how the anti-tax, no-matter-the-reason, no-matter-the-consequences crowd can distort facts and spew myths to paint all government agencies as nothing more than greedy and incompetent malefactors and criminals.

They choose to lump all tax increases into one giant conspiracy of rapacity. First of all, the 94 ballot measures that Mr. Hilmer counted over the last 20 years are a byproduct of the Hancock Amendment. That amendment limits governing boards and agencies to passing on only cost-of-living adjustments. Any significant operational changes or capital improvements require a vote of the people. Now, I would ask Mr. Hilmer, is this a bad thing? Would he prefer having no voice on these tax measures?

Mr. Hilmer and his fan, Mr. Hemme, also implied that the people of south county were subjected to each of the 94 ballot measures.

This is distortion, plain and simple. Residents in the Lindbergh School District did not have to vote on proposals in the Mehlville School District, and vice versa. Those of us who live in unincorporated south county did not vote on measures in Sunset Hills, St. George or Green Park. But it just sounds worse to say the people of south county faced 94 tax proposals over twenty years.

Mr. Hilmer and Mr. Hemme failed to point out that the vast majority of those ballot proposals failed, so taxpayers did not get their pocketbooks “fleeced” to the extent that they want you to believe. Additionally, the Hancock Amendment requires municipalities and school districts to roll back their operating levy after each reassessment. The current tax rate for the Mehlville School District is $3.57 per $100. That’s almost 40 cents less than the total tax rate of $3.96 approved by voters six years ago.

Mr. Hemme says that since enrollment declined by 341 students, we should roll back taxes to reflect that drop. Those 341 students account for less than 3/10ths of 1 percent of our total enrollment.

That comes to about one cent of the total blended rate assessed by the Mehlville School District. The school board reduced your tax rate by that amount this past August.

No need to thank us.

Over the past few years, the Mehlville School District has laid off teachers and foregone textbook purchases to balance its budget. However, if the school board followed the lead of the fire board, it would require cutting $37 million more from the annual operating budget. Remember, we are south county’s largest employer and serve more than 11,000 students.

We could eliminate all of our resource service officers — county police officers. Of course, we would have no protection or no one to stop a child molester or resentful parent from snatching a child.

But that is just a start. We would also have to eliminate all of our extracurricular programs and lay off all of the principals and administrators, all of our cafeteria workers, librarians, counselors, nurses and about 200 classroom teachers.

Now what kind of education do you think our district would provide at that point? Rather than meeting Distinction in Performance for our academic accomplishments, our district would be under state control and our tax rate would be set by someone in Jefferson City.

I worry about the people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Mr. Hemme takes a shot at the decision to purchase synthetic grass fields. That purchase was made by using funds already being spent on annual maintenance of our natural grass — mud — fields.

No increase in our operational budget or in your taxes was required. Our students will be able to use the fields 10 times as often as they can now; we’ll reduce the instances and severity of injuries by 50 percent; and synthetic grass fields give us an opportunity to bring in income through rentals, regardless of the weather.

If Mr. Hemme has any complaints with Proposition P, he first needs to look in the mirror. Prop P was needed because for too many years voters like him were unwilling to provide the funding necessary for ongoing maintenance — failing roofs, worn-out HVAC equipment, inadequate wiring and plumbing, asbestos tiles and insulation. Two buildings were in such poor shape that they had to be torn down and replaced. Do those things sound like luxury items?

Were mistakes made when estimates were developed for the work and communicated to the public? Absolutely.

But our current board authorized an independent citizens’ committee to examine Proposition P and suggest operational changes to see that the cost overruns won’t occur again. By the way, those Prop P cost estimates were off in part because the district did not have the funds to do a proper facilities survey and relied on figures developed mostly by volunteers and staff — again, they were trying to save the district money.

I hate to break Mr. Hemme’s heart, but the Mehlville school board already chose not to place a tax issue on the ballot even be-fore the decision was made to hire UNICOM•ARC.

They were hired to help us work with the community to address issues of concern to both parents and taxpayers; such as, how do we comply with the unfunded federal No-Child-Left-Behind mandates; how do we improve operations and efficiency; how do we teach our curriculum to the 1,300 students for whom English is not their primary language, or the 1,869 special-education students; how do we upgrade and implement our science and technology curriculum so our students can compete in a global economy; and how do we keep our children safe in today’s society?

We are committed to working with the community to operate a district that meets the needs of our children now, and in the future. Residents of south county need to realize just what an asset the Mehlville School District is to our community and the value we give our taxpayers.

We meet all existing state requirements with distinction and yet, only the Bayless School District has a lower expenditure per child in the metro St. Louis area than Mehlville.

With a spirit of community cooperation, we could make our district the model for academic excellence for all schools in the St. Louis area.

Mr. Diehl was elected to the Mehlville Board of Education last April.