PR director clashes with leadership of Prop P oversight panel
By MIKE ANTHONY
For the second time in as many meetings, Patrick Wallace, the Mehlville School District's school/community relations director, publicly has clashed with the leadership of the district's Proposition P Oversight Committee.
During an Oversight Committee meeting last week, Chairman Chuck Van Gronigen and Vice Chairman Gloria Brazell contended that if the oversight panel would have had knowledge of an additional $13.6 million the district now projects to spend on the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, members may have made different choices in the projects they recommended to the board for approval.
Both Van Gronigen and Brazell are former Board of Education members and board presidents.
Brazell, in particular, contended that the scope of some of the projects had been reduced in an effort to stay within the board-approved $72.4 million budget.
But Wallace disagreed, contending no projects were reduced in scope and that decisions about any enhancements to projects that could be funded by the additional funds were outside of the Oversight Committee's purview — to interpret the master facilities plan recommended by the district's Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities.
District voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million districtwide building improvement program funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase.
Interest on bond-like certificates of participation issued to fund Proposition P allowed the construction budget to increase to $72.4 million.
During the previous Oversight Committee meeting, Van Gronigen had 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 the June 11 meeting, the chairman said he was unaware of the additional $13.6 million that is projected to be spent on Proposition P-related projects, bringing total cost of the building improvement program to more than $86 million through mid-2008.
But administrators and Wallace 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 $72.4 million. However, administrators and Wallace conceded that committee members may not have been fully aware that the additional district capital funds being used are generated by the 49-cent tax-rate increase authorized by voters when Proposition P was approved. Of the 49 cents, 41.6 cents is being used to retire the certificates and 7.4 cents is going into the district's capital fund.
During the July 30 Oversight Committee meeting, Brazell, who did not attend the previous meeting, emphasized that she was unaware of the additional $13.6 million that is projected to be spent on the Proposition P-related projects.
"What concerns me is that decisions were made on projects which actually cut back on the scope of the individual building projects based upon the $68 million budget without this floating budget that's out there. That's a concern,'' Brazell said.
Wallace said, "What projects were cut back, my question, because I don't recall projects being cut back. I think the only thing that was ever cut back that I can recall is if something was suggested be done that wasn't in the scope of the master facilities plan. I don't think anything was cut back ...''
Brazell said, "Well, actually, actually, I'll go back to Buerkle Middle School.''
Wallace said, "What was cut back, I'm asking.''
Brazell said, "The science wings that the parents thought they were going to have ...''
Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district's chief financial officer, interjected, "But again that was not a part of the master facilities plan.''
Brazell said, "There's not even a faculty restroom now.''
Charles said, "But again, when we brought those project designs to this group and subsequently to the board, we compared the master facilities plan to the design that the architects had developed and everything was there, so ...''
Brazell said, "And we looked at that in the scope of that quote $68 million unquote budget. That's one of the issues.''
Plans for Buerkle Middle School were discussed Aug. 21, 2002, by the Oversight Committee. In a report submitted to the Board of Education regarding that meeting, Van Gronigen wrote, "There are concerns over the amount of space for Buerkle science labs and industrial tech, both were high priorities of the original facilities committee. The rooms are smaller than Washington and Bernard (middle schools) and not as well equipped.
"In general, classrooms are smaller than those at Washington and Bernard. There are no restroom facilities for faculty on the lower level,'' Van Gronigen wrote.
Though his report noted that "the science rooms will be a big plus over what the science teachers have now,'' he also wrote, "The staff is 'resigned' about the plans for the renovation and understand that there are budget limitations.''
Whether the Oversight Committee would have made different recommendations if members had knowledge of the additional funds being used was discussed more than once during last week's meeting.
At one point, Van Gronigen said, "... We had teachers and we had people who if the board had acted and said here, well, here's the decision that we have to make: Roll back the taxes, spend more money, don't spend the money, whatever it is, hold on to it, just use it as a larger contingency, whatever they decided to do with it, then the decisions at Oakville, the decisions at Buerkle, the decisions at all of these buildings really they're very, very different.
"The decisions that we make as an Oversight Committee are very, very different if the board decides that they want to use the 49-cent levy to do the projects or if they want it managed to a different number. That discipline sort of goes away,'' the chairman said.
Wallace interjected, "I'm saying, though, that I thought that you guys as an oversight group were, and I thought you did what you were supposed to do, you stuck to the master facility plan ... At Oakville and Buerkle, you had your checklist at every meeting. Is this on the master facility plan to redo it and I don't recall any situation where we said well it's on the plan, but we don't have enough money so we're not going to do it. I don't think you're saying, or maybe you are, I'm asking, are you saying that had you known there's another $13 million, you would have approved a lot of other things that weren't in the scope of the project?''
Van Gronigen said, "I'm telling you that if the board would have said we wanted to spend $13.6 million, we may have made different decisions. They made the decision to spend 13.6 million bucks and that's not necessarily a bad decision. I don't look at this list and say we should have thrown all this stuff out and not built buildings. But I'm saying that we were operating un-der an artificially manipulated number.''
Wallace said, "I — I understand. But I thought you guys, from sitting at the meetings, took every project and looked at it according to the scope of the master facility plan and I don't recall anything not being done that wasn't in the scope.''
Brazell said, "But you can refine that scope. There were several different plans given to Buerkle and we wound up with the least amount of additions. Now, you want to talk about equity, which we're hearing for equity in all the buildings.''
Wallace said, "I don't think we're talking about that. I don't think anybody said anything about that. I'm saying we're going with the scope of the master facility plan. That's what we discussed at every oversight meeting.''
Brazell said, "Well, you know what, I'm saying something about it.''
Wallace said, "Well, you're saying equity, that's not what your charge was. I don't believe your charge had the word equity in there, is what I'm saying.''
Brazell said, "You know what, as a taxpayer, it does.''
Wallace said, "I'm a taxpayer, too, Gloria.''
Brazell said, "As a taxpayer, it does. But that scope was scaled down due to the budget numbers that we were given to work with.''
Charles said, "And, Gloria, understand that's not unique to Buerkle. We did it on all the projects.''
Brazell said, "That's my point. We weren't given that real budget to make those decisions. It's all about money.''
Charles said, "But I guess the point I'm trying to make is these additional things that were done are not growth in scope. These are things, asbestos abatement ...''
Brazell said, "That's right. I agree with you, Randy. I agree with you.''
Charles said, "... In terms of implementing the master facilities plan, we have and we continue to stick to the ($)72.4 (million), but when you start talking about things in addition to the master facilities plan, the only place we have to go to for funding is the district capital fund ...''
Charles earlier had explained that some confusion about the use of capital funds resulted from calling them "non-Prop P'' funds. "... In order for us to deliver the facility that was expected by the community that's outlined in the master facilities plan, we're going to put in some additional capital funds — non-Prop P funds — and that's where the communication breakdown came. As Chuck pointed out, most people, it sounds like, didn't understand where these non-Prop P funds were coming from. Because in a lot of people's minds, that's Prop P funds, it comes out of the 49 cents, why do you call that non-Prop P funds? What I'm saying is guys, I get it,'' he said.