When will Mehlville officials tell the truth about Prop P?

By Mike Anthony

What will it take for Mehlville School District officials to honestly and accurately report all the facts about the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program?

The so-called “Prop P Progress” report included in the latest edition of the Mehlville Messenger certainly doesn’t include all the facts about Proposition P. Instead, district residents have footed the bill for some Proposition P propaganda that falls far short of including the information the district should disseminate about Proposition P.

Earlier this year, the Call began making inquiries about the actual cost of Proposition P and the amount of revenue being generated by the 49-cent tax-rate increase approved by voters in November 2000 to fund the districtwide building improvement program. Since then, details about Proposition P slowly have been trickling out from district officials.

Despite what some district administrators have said, Mehlville voters in November 2000 approved a nearly $68.4 million bond issue that would be funded by a 49-cent tax-rate in-crease.

We now know that the total cost of Proposition P and its related projects is projected to be more than $86 million, including nearly $13.7 million in district capital funds.

We also know that the 49-cent tax-rate increase will generate nearly $26 million more over 20 years than is needed to retire bond-like certificates the district issued to fund the Prop P improvements.

Proposition P Oversight Committee Chairman Chuck Van Gronigen last month contended that he was un-aware of an additional $13.6 million that is projected to be spent on Prop-osition P-related projects.

Administrators countered that Oversight Committee members were fully aware that additional district capital funds are being spent and the total cost of the Proposition P improvements and related projects will be more than the board-approved $72.4 million budget. But they conceded that committee members may not have been fully aware that the additional district capital funds being used are being generated by the 49-cent tax-rate in-crease authorized by voters when Prop P was approved.

In response to Mr. Van Gronigen’s comments, Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer, said, “… If you start talking about the details of what’s in that $13 million, that’s all been very public from the beginning. I did some checking on that and of the items that are in that $13 million, first of all only that’s what we’re projecting to spend through 2008. Of that amount, about 95 percent of that $13 million has been or will be presented to the board in open session. So that’s not new. That’s not anything that’s been hidden.”

Perhaps Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed best characterized the administration’s response when she said, “It wasn’t a failure to disclose, it was a failure to connect that statement about capital funds with the 49 cents.”

That sounds good, but it just doesn’t wash. This newspaper has been asking for more than 18 months about how Prop P-related items are being funded. For example, the proposed revised Prop P budget projects that $97,786 will be spent on window blinds — an item the list provided to the board states was approved by the board on April 8, 2002.

But the board voted on April 8, 2002, to award a $83,151 contract for the districtwide installation of window treatments to Woodard Contract. At that time, Mr. Charles told this newspaper that the cost of the blinds will be funded outside of Proposition P funds.

Or consider the $2,154,704 in district capital funds Mehlville is proposing to spend on furniture, fixtures and equipment.

When the board voted June 10, 2002, to approve $81,058 in bids for furnishings at Oakville Senior High School, the board was told the purchases were being funded outside of Proposition P funding.

“The district’s Assistant Superintendent for Finance Randy Charles, who is also chief financial officer, explained to the board that a budget of $80,000 was in the district’s 2002-2003 capital fund budget for these items,” the Call reported June 20, 2002.

More recently, the board voted to spend $1,219,418.51 for furniture, fixtures and equipment for the district’s middle schools.

A cost analysis submitted to the board by Mr. Charles stated, “Furniture and equipment for the middle schools will be purchased with district funds (non Prop P).”

That’s also what the minutes of the March 24 meeting state: “In a cost analysis submitted to the Board of Education, the board was informed FFE will be purchase through district funds (non-Proposition P).”

Those are just a few examples that show it would have been just about impossible to connect the use of the 49 cents to district capital funds.

Mehlville students certainly will benefit from the wonderful improvements Propo-sition P is funding, but at what cost to the district? Mehlville administrators claim they’ve been up front and open about Proposition P from the beginning. If that’s true, when did they plan on telling the public that the 49 cents will generate nearly $26 million more over 20 years than is needed to retire the district’s obligations?

Mehlville officials certainly can tell the community about how the district’s students will benefit from the Prop P improvements or about the prudent investment decisions they made with the revenue from the 49-cent levy.

But don’t tell us you’ve been honest with us because that’s simply not true.