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Mehlville to consider asking voters for tax-rate increase 'as much as 97 cents,' Frank says


November 16, 2005 - A proposal to place before Mehlville School District voters an operational tax-rate increase was scheduled to be considered today — Nov. 17 — by the Board of Education, according to member Karl Frank Jr.

Though the Board of Education originally planned to meet Wednesday night, Frank told the Call Saturday that the meeting would take place at 7 p.m. today — Nov. 17 — at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

Frank told the Call that the proposed operational tax-rate increase could be "as much as 97 cents'' based on comments made by board members during a joint meeting Nov. 9 with the district's Long Range Planning Committee. That meeting originally had been scheduled to take place Monday, Nov. 14, but the Call did not learn of the change until after it went to press last week.

"I got the impression after that (Nov. 9) meeting that we're leaning toward 97 cents,'' Frank said. "The administration is recommending 75 cents, but I think there was a strong feeling that if we stayed under a dollar that it would be easier to get passed by the voters.''

The Long Range Planning Committee recently presented a revised Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, or CSIP, to the Board of Education and recommended placing a 50- or 75-cent operational tax-rate increase before voters to purchase textbooks, replace buses, lower class sizes, retain staff and improve technology.

However, committee members told the board that a 50- or 75-cent tax-rate increase would stabilize the district's budget, but provide little or no funding for the revised CSIP, which encompasses four areas — academic achievement, technology, facilities and finance. A 50-cent tax-rate increase, if approved by voters, would generate roughly $7.5 million, while a 75-cent tax-rate increase, if approved, would generate an estimated $11.2 million.

The administration's draft implementation plan for the long range plan outlines numerous recommendations that could be accomplished during the current school year, many at no additional cost. For the 2006-2007 school year, the draft implementation plan, made public Nov. 3, contains the following assumptions:

• Additional revenue from a tax levy of at least 75 cents.

• New foundation formula money of at least $400,000.

• Additional cents on a levy beyond the 75 cents would allow additional implementation and acceleration of the plan based on priorities.

• Identifying possible "no-tax-increase'' general obligation bonds could be used for some of the facilities strategies.

The draft implementation plan also outlines recommendations that could be funded by adding five and 10 cents to a 75-cent tax-rate increase.

Despite Mehlville's need for additional revenue, Frank said, "I don't think if we put a quarter on the ballot it would pass ... I believe that any tax increase that Mehlville puts on the ballot will go down in resounding defeat.''

While a survey conducted earlier this year by the Chilenski Strategy Group concluded a tax increase of roughly 35 to 40 cents was feasible, given a tough economy, high unemployment, record gas prices, increased property taxes and upcoming high heating bills, Frank contends the district will be unable to obtain voter approval of a tax-rate increase.

"I believe Mehlville does need a lot more revenue. I think it's not just Mehlville, though. It's also other districts in the area and all across the country. Our teachers do deserve to be paid at least the county median and our funding and our money need to go to the classrooms. Actually, that's one of the issues that I have with this long range plan. After a much more thorough review, it looks like to me that we're already misspending the money even before we've got it.

"One of the things we're not including in there is $300,000 for professional development, yet we've got $84,000 in there for the Mehlville Messenger and marketing. As far as I'm concerned, we need to be spending the money, especially given our most recent results with the APR (Annual Performance Report) getting a 73, we need to be as spending as much money as possible in the classroom as possible, not on marketing,'' he said.

The district also needs more revenue because "we're losing some of our best teachers to other districts in the area, and I think it's a lot of reasons, it's not just pay. I think the overall morale is down with the teachers and other support staff and even with the students,'' he said.

Morale is down, Frank believes, because "Mehlville has become kind of cold and calculating. You don't get those warm and 'fuzzies' you get about public education and what public education can accomplish, and the teachers' creativity has been restricted. I believe their overall abilities have been compromised ... I think that it starts at the top and then works its way down because an administration and Board of Education create a culture for — whether you're talking about public education or a company — you're creating a company culture. If that company culture is low morale and negativity, then that's what you get is low performance.''

Besides considering an amount to place before voters in an operational tax-rate increase, Frank said board members also will decide when the matter should be placed before voters. He believes some board members are leaning toward placing a tax-rate increase on the February ballot, something he opposes.

"I'm looking for some data about that, but it's my understanding that if we have a special election in February, it will cost tens of thousands of dollars more than if we added it to our school board election in April,'' he said. "So with a district that's cash crunched, it would make sense to me to wait the extra two months and put it on in April instead of February because from what I understand — and again I'm trying to verify this — we're not going to get the money any quicker whether we pass it in February or in April.''

Though he hasn't completed his research yet, Frank said, "It's my understanding that February elections are much harder to pass tax levies than April. So not only does it cost more, but it's harder to pass ...''

In a separate matter tonight, Frank said the board would take a vote on accepting an audit of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program performed by RubinBrown. Frank, who previously told the Call that he believes the audit is a "farce'' and a "whitewash,'' said he will vote against accepting the audit.

"It's the biggest waste of $15,000 I've seen since I was elected,'' he said. "I see wasteful spending all the time, especially with our legal team, but we spent $15,000 for this. And what happened is that the administration controlled the message all the way through it and it's the biggest waste of money I've seen since I was elected.''

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