May 18, 2005 - Five Mehlville Board of Education members last week rejected a motion to establish an independent commission to review the "passage and application'' of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program.
Board member Karl Frank Jr.'s motion to establish the independent commission was seconded by board member Ken Leach.
Voting against the motion were board President Rita Diekemper, Vice President Bill Schornheuser, Secretary Mike Heins, Cindy Christopher and Tom Correnti.
Frank voted in favor of the motion, while Leach abstained.
Those voting against Frank's motion cited a number of objections, contending it was "argumentative'' and not "professionally written.'' Some wanted more specifics about how people would be selected to serve on the commission and questioned why people would volunteer to serve on such a panel.
But Frank countered that an independent commission is needed to review Proposition P to regain the public trust and move the school district forward.
Frank's motion came after Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district's chief financial officer, had given a lengthy, comprehensive presentation about the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program. Charles detailed the program from its inception when the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities began meeting to the status of current projects.
Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. However, the Board of Education voted in November to approve a revised Proposition P budget of $88,927,440. The revised Proposition P budget represents a roughly 30 percent increase — more than $20.5 million — over the $68.4 million building improvement program envisioned in 2000.
After Charles' presentation, Frank queried the assistant superintendent about several aspects of Proposition P, focusing primarily on the finances of the districtwide building improvement program.
Correnti, however, took exception to Frank's line of questioning, saying, "I'd like to know when this agenda item (became) a trial? When did this agenda item or a request for information become an opportunity to grill Mr. Charles on things that happened years in the past? I think we spent an hour and a half listening to a presentation from a request and now we've got to listen to a grill — a trial? I'm getting tired of listening to it ... This isn't what was requested. This agenda item was for information, not to grill.''
After further discussion, Frank made his motion.
"In order to begin the process of putting Proposition P behind us, moving Mehlville forward and gaining back the public trust, which is clearly lost, which we're going to talk about here in a few minutes,'' he said, referring to the next agenda item, a presentation about a recent telephone survey conducted by the Chilenski Strategy Group. "I move to form a commission of professional women and men ...''
Correnti interjected, "Is that a part of your motion?''
Frank continued, "Completely independent of the Mehlville School District to review what went right with Proposition P and why and to this point what went wrong with Proposition P and why. This commission will be appointed by the board and will consist of but would not be limited to construction managers, architects, financial advisers, past administrators, possibly past board members or whoever else. After a thorough review of Proposition P's passage and application, the commission will then announce their findings and make recommendations to the board during a public hearing or board meeting at which time the board will decide whether to adopt or deny their recommendations and policy changes, therefore taking the first step in moving Mehlville forward in the eyes of the public. I don't see how you can disagree with that.''
After a discussion of parliamentary procedure, Leach seconded the motion, saying, "I'd like to ask some questions.''
He said, "... The only thing I can see that would be constructive to that is if it's something that would just — that wouldn't be a witch hunt. It would be like a procedure that would maybe make recommendations on how in the future that you could do things a little bit better.''
Frank said, "Absolutely. As an example, Lindbergh in their board policy book that they have, their board president's required to sign their contracts. And they had, I don't know if they still do or not, but they had a change order policy over $5,000 that had to be approved or anything under $5,000 didn't ... So these are the kind of policy changes that I think the public needs to hear in a formal stance, in a formal specification and a formal statement by this district that we realize that our buildings are beautiful. They look great. Our children needed them. There's no way that we should not have passed Proposition P, but that we also know that we made some mistakes. Here's what the mistakes are. You can trust us now and so whenever we put something on (the ballot) again, we've made some changes and we're not going to allow this to happen again because of this. That's the purpose of this independent, completely independent commission ...''
Heins voiced concerns about the cost of the commission, saying a recorder would have to be paid to keep minutes and administrators would have to attend commission meetings.
"... It would take a lot of time and a lot of money. You know, we're running a school district here,'' Heins said.
Diekemper proposed to have Charles formulate a list of things that would have been done differently "in hindsight.''
But Frank responded that he believes a completely independent commission must review Proposition P to regain the public trust and rebuild the district's public relations.
"... We have to have the appearance and the actuality of a completely independent commission,'' he said. "You can do it however you want, but if you fail, that's on you guys, you know, if you don't pass it. But this is what I believe needs to take place ... I don't understand what everybody's — what's everybody so scared of?''
Diekemper said, "... First of all, you're putting words in our mouths and, second of all, I think that the motion is not professionally written. So I have a problem with the way that the motion is written.''
Frank said, "The motion is to form an independent committee ...''
Heins interjected, "You were rude from the very beginning of the motion ...''
Several board members began speaking at once, with Heins finally saying, "The language was very ...''
Correnti interjected, "Argumentative.''
Heins said, "... Argumentative.''
Frank said, "The purpose of making a motion is to get it on the table so you can have a second, right? So I can make that motion in whatever way I see fit. Then the board then has a discussion and if they want to change that motion, then they can. But it's only beneficial, my opinion is, it's only beneficial if it's a commission and independent. That's the focus of the motion.''
Diekemper later had two objections to Frank's motion.
"My issue is with the way the motion is written. It has to be professionally written and I would have to have more information about how the people were selected before I could cast a vote,'' she said.
After continued discussion of the wording of the motion, the board president questioned why people would volunteer to serve on such a commission.
"... First of all, I would want to know why would they — a construction manager, that had no connection to the district and wasn't being paid, why would they want to donate their time to the Mehlville School District to do something like that?'' Diekemper said.
Diekemper later questioned why the Oversight Committee could not perform the review Frank wants.
But Frank said he wanted the commission to be totally independent.
"... I'm taking me out of this, OK? I'm just — don't kill the messenger here, all right? I'm telling you what you have to do to gain back the public trust and if you don't want to do that, then you don't want to do that,'' he said.
Diekemper said, "The survey says the public was happy with the way Prop P was implemented.''
Frank said, "They're happy with the buildings ... There was no question asking if they were happy with the $20 million over budget.''
Correnti said, "... It sounds like a grandstand. You're grandstanding by putting this, saying that we're over budget, we're over this, I'm out of the picture. You're grandstanding. That's what you're doing.''
Leach asked if the board could agree to seek volunteers who would be willing to serve on the commission.
"... Could we maybe just agree to ask for volunteers, see what we come up with and then if they're willing to work on something like that and come up with any kind of suggestions ...?'' he asked.
Christopher said, "I'd actually be more comfortable if we cleaned up this motion. I think it smacks of ...''
Several board members began speaking at once before Christopher resumed, saying, "I don't really think that it has good direction in it about specifics. It's got some overarching opinions in it ... I would like to see the motion cleaned up. At that point, if there's more specifics that go along with it that we can figure out like some indications of where we're going to get specific people that are different than the people that already have served on several different committees throughout this process. We've had a lot of experts in a lot of different fields ... If we have other ideas of people, I guess, you know, we could look at that, but I think we've already done that ...''
Frank said, "I make a secondary motion then to remove all the frivolous language and form an independent committee to investigate Proposition P from beginning to end.''
Diekemper suggested, "... How about this? How about if you clean up the language between now and the next meeting, think about how we would get ...''
Frank interjected, "This is a delay tactic ...''
After further discussion, Diekemper said, "This is one of my questions. Could someone who lives within our district be allowed to be on the commission?''
Frank said, "Yes.''
Diekemper said, "OK, so how is that person independent from the Mehlville School District?''
Frank said, "It's not an employee or elected official of the district ...''
Diekemper said, "... Well, but you don't spell that — but you don't spell that out. I don't know what independent means ... Independent has a different meaning if you're a CPA, if you're a professional.''
After more discussion, board members agreed to vote, but Correnti said, "... I have had a motion to remove the frivolity in this motion ...''
Several board members began speaking at once and Frank said, "Tom, I apologize. I used the wrong terminology. I was trying to state what they were saying. You can understand that, can't you ...''
Correnti said, "Don't question me. Don't question me ... Be professional the whole time. Don't question whether I understand or not.''
Frank attempted to respond, but Correnti interjected, "... Don't talk. Don't finish me.''
Diekemper said, "So we're getting ready to take a vote on the motion ...''
Correnti interjected, "Take the vote.''
Leach said, "... And the alternative would be to make another motion at the next meeting?''
Heins replied, "Yes. That would be the alternative.''
Board members then defeated the motion 5-1 with Leach abstaining.