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Mehlville residents receive an early Christmas present



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Mike Anthony
December 29, 2004 - Mehlville School District residents received an early Christmas present last week with the announcement that Assistant Superintendent Randy Charles will leave for greener pastures at the end of the school year.

Mr. Charles, who has served as Mehlville's assistant superintendent for finance and the district's chief financial officer since July 1, 2001, will become superintendent of the Hillsboro School District on July 1.

Mehlville's gain is Hillsboro's loss as we believe Mr. Charles is as ill-suited to being a superintendent as he was to serving as an assistant superintendent here.

Given his pronounced inability to handle criticism, we'll be curious to see Mr. Charles' reaction when someone questions a decision he makes in his new position. It's a foregone conclusion that he will react in some fashion as we've observed that Mr. Charles must respond to each and every criticism, no matter how slight.

On no matter has that been more evident than Mr. Charles' oversight of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, which during his tenure as the district's chief financial officer has grown from a roughly $68.4 million program to a nearly $90 million program. Given that, it's certainly understandable why Mr. Charles has spent the better part of the past 18 months attempting to rewrite the history of Proposition P.

We maintain that voters made the right choice in November 2000 when they approved Proposition P — at that time a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. But as we know today, the actual cost of Proposition P will be at least $88,927,440, a roughly 30 percent increase — more than $20.5 million — over the building improvement program envisioned in 2000.

Mr. Charles' effort to rewrite Proposition P's history began within weeks after this newspaper reported in May 2003 that the cost of the program could total more than $86 million through June 30, 2008. During a Proposition P Oversight Committee meeting in June 2003, Mr. Charles said, "The voters approved a 49-cent levy. They didn't approve a $68 million project.''

Given Mr. Charles' minimal involvement in the community engagement process that led to Proposition P — he was the Mehlville Senior High School principal at the time of the ballot measure's passage — it's interesting to hear him characterize what he thinks voters approved. But we know exactly what voters were told about Proposition P.

For example, on Oct. 19, 2000, in a column headlined "Mehlville's Proposition P critical to the community,'' the Call endorsed the Proposition P ballot measure, noting, "The nearly $68.4 million bond issue will be funded by a tax-rate increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.''

Besides attempting to rewrite Proposition P's history, it's certainly no secret that district administrators, including Mr. Charles, were not up front about how much the 49-cent tax-rate increase was generating and the amount of district capital funds being spent.

Of the voter-approved 49-cent tax-rate increase, 41.6 cents is being used to retire bond-like certificates of participation, while 7.4 cents is going into the district's capital fund and being used for Proposition P-related projects.

Current projections indicate the 7.4 cents will generate roughly $31 million more through 2022 than is needed to retire the certificates. To date, the district has spent $67,289,650 of the Proposition P construction budget and $13,464,851 of the district capital fund revenue for a total of $80,754,501 in expenditures.

In June 2003, Oversight Committee Chairman Chuck Van Gronigen, a former Board of Education member, contended administrators had not provided full disclosure to the panel of the total estimated cost of the districtwide building improvement program and related projects. At that same meeting, Mr. Charles told committee members that administrators knew more than a year earlier — spring 2002 — the 49 cents would generate far more revenue than would be needed to retire the certificates.

With administrators using such phrases as "non-Proposition P funds'' or being funded "outside of Proposition P,'' it's no wonder no one could connect the fact that the district capital funds being used for Proposition P-related projects were coming from the 49-cent tax-rate increase.

Mr. Charles has contended that poor communication resulted in the misunderstanding about the source of district capital funds being used to finance Proposition P-related projects.

In fact, after serving two years as chief financial officer, he said at an Oversight Committee meeting in July 2003, "... We recognize that there's a communication problem. While we thought — and part of it, you know, put it on to a rookie CFO (chief financial officer). When we started communicating this information to the public, it comes out of my office and you're talking about somebody brand new to the job, and, to me, and maybe part of what was going on is I'm assuming that when I say 'non-Prop P money,' everybody knows what I'm talking about. Well, obviously that wasn't true. So we got some work to do. We've got to fix that and that's why we're doing it now ...''

Board members and Central Office administrators soon will begin the search for a replacement for Mr. Charles. We urge them to hire someone with a background in accounting; someone with an MBA would be even better. But it's obvious that Mehlville cannot afford to provide on-the-job training to a "rookie CFO.''

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