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Ex-school board members leave conservative legacy

Ex-board members' actions have lasting consequences

Mike Anthony
Executive Editor

April 17, 2013 - Mark Stoner is the new president of the Mehlville Board of Education.

Other officers elected last week include newly elected board member Lori Trakas as vice president and board member Rich Franz as secretary.

Now, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Mehlville School District, it appears the Board of Education has a conservative majority.

Some might ask, how could this happen? The answer is simple. Some past board members who vowed to bring change to the district failed to deliver what they promised. We can think of several who should be held accountable, but the chief architects of this failure were former board members Tom Diehl and Karl Frank Jr. and their refusal to listen to reason.

Diehl was swept into office in April 2006, two months after voters trounced a 97-cent tax-rate increase placed on the ballot by the Board of Education. Frank, elected in April 2005 after railing about the school board's "groupthink" mentality, cast the sole "no" vote against placing the 97-cent tax-rate increase on the ballot.

When he announced his candidacy for the school board in 2006, Diehl wrote, "... Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers ..."

But roughly four years later while defending the board's decision to award a $44,000 a year raise to then-Superintendent Terry Noble, Diehl told KTVI's Elliott Davis, "My decision and the decision of this board isn't based on how the taxpayers feel."

Though the raise later was rescinded, it launched a firestorm of criticism from the public starting in the spring of 2010. Despite the barrage of negative publicity, Diehl and Frank marched full speed ahead with plans to place a 94-cent tax-rate increase on the November 2010 ballot.

In their zeal to place such an outrageous tax-rate increase before voters, they listened to no one.

Former school board President Ken Leach told the board that a 94-cent tax-rate increase "has the same odds of passing as a lottery winner getting struck by lightning.''

Undeterred, the board shaved six cents off the proposal and voted 6-0 to place an 88-cent tax-rate increase on the November 2010 ballot. That decision sparked the formation of the Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association, or MCTA, which enlisted five former school board members in opposing the tax-rate increase, called Proposition C.

Former board member Dan Fowler, who led the effort to pass Proposition P in 2000 and who co-chaired the district's community-engagement efforts, COMPASS I and II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — declined to participate in the campaign for Prop C. Privately, he urged board and district leadership to remove Prop C from the ballot, telling them he couldn't pass Prop C if he had a $1 million campaign fund.

Needless to say, voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop C. After the measure was defeated, Frank resigned, Noble retired and Diehl opted not to seek a third term on the board.

The April after Prop C's defeat saw Stoner and Franz elected to the school board. Kathleen Eardley was elected to the board last year and Trakas was elected April 2.

For all their time on the school board, what successes can Diehl and Frank cite?

Quite frankly, their legacy is a board that now has a conservative majority.

Those who are pleased with that owe a debt of gratitude to Diehl and Frank. Those who are unhappy with the board having a conservative majority can blame Diehl and Frank.

We're sure that Diehl and Frank are among those who are unhappy with the makeup of the current board, but the two have no one to blame but themselves.

Tags: Opinions Column

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