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No evidence of any Proposition P underhandedness, reader says

To the editor:

There have been very few Mehlville School District Board of Education meetings I have missed in the last three years.

I have voluntarily served with the Proposition K effort, on the CACF committee and the Prop P Oversight Committee for the Mehlville School District. Not because I have any undying devotion to the district, but, first because I wanted some change to occur. Second, for the career educational experience. Third, I recognize the importance of community spirit.

Just a point, I have not always agreed with board or administration decisions and have voiced my opinion about those issues in a variety of ways. I recognize there have been communication misunderstandings amid the groups affiliated with Prop P stewardship. But there is no evidence of any underhandedness. With that said, I would like to fill in some missing facts that your paper seems to have forgotten or just overlooked in recent critique.

In the May 2000 meeting of the CACF, options for funding the capital improvements that had been identified by the committee were proposed by A.G. Edwards. Among the options presented was a Leasehold Revenue Bond.

The CACF was informed; for a hypothetical bond issue of $80,520,000 using Leasehold Revenue Bonds, A.G. Edwards projected a 49-cent tax levy increase. Of the two funding options put forth, this one was the more attractive generating bond. The CACF overwhelmingly voted to recommend this type of bond. At this point all options were for Phase 1 of the $150 million identified improvements and were estimated close to a $70 million scope of work.

In August 2000, the Board of Education made modification to the Facility Master Plan presented by CACF. The modifications were to be addressed in phases, the first one at an estimated "probable'' cost of $68.4 million.

The 49-cent tax-rate increase that was then approved in November of 2000 to "implement the building improvement plan recommended by the CACF will actually generate far above the $80 million projected by A.G. Edwards because of favorable market conditions. During the CACF meeting in May, this situation was presented as a strong possibility.

As routinely happens, the cost estimates were adjusted during the design and construction document phases and a more accurate cost estimate of $86,725,000 was approved by the school board. Many issues can affect the final cost of construction, as those who have built a custom home or renovated an existing one know.

When unforeseen conditions arise, every effort is made by all parties involved to stay within the approved budgets. School board members, construction management, administrators, architects and oversight members come to the table to deliver cost effective, quality, functioning facilities.

Related expenditures that plausibly or opportunistically arise are investigated extensively before engendered funds are used. Respect is given to the language of the ballot and the building improvement plan of the CACF as issues present themselves. The district is on target to deliver the items that are described on the ballot.

The divisive journalism does not help achieve the recommendation of the CACF — over 3,000 community members — or the will of the people. Also, it puts in jeopardy the completion of phase II. I would hope the future of students/children would not be compromised by some entity's desire for sensationalism or attention. Instead, an analytical, constructive dialogue offered by the Call as a contribution to the good of the whole would be preferred.

Karen Johnson


Editor's note: The Call is more than pleased to respond to Mrs. Johnson's request for an analytical, constructive dialogue about Proposition P. It should be noted that the Call was the only newspaper to endorse the passage of Proposition P. The Call also apparently knew before Board of Education members and Oversight Committee members that the 49-cent tax-rate increase approved by voters is generating much more money than is needed to retire the certificates of participation issued to fund Proposition P.

Don't forget that as recently as April 24, Board of Education President Cindy Christopher told 500 people at the district's Recognition Night that Proposition P was on time and on budget.

As for the "strong possibility'' that the 49 cents would generate more revenue than needed, during the Aug. 15, 2000, meeting in which the Board of Education voted to place Proposition P on the ballot, one option suggested to board members was that surplus funds could be used to retire bonds early. Another option, suggested by Amelia Bond of A.G. Edwards, "was not levying the full 49 cents approved if it turned out to more than needed,'' the approved minutes from the Aug. 15, 2000, board meeting state.

What Mrs. Johnson has characterized as "communication misunderstandings amid the groups affiliated with Prop P stewardship,'' has been termed a failure to disclose by other Oversight Committee members, including Oversight Committee Chairman Chuck Van Gronigen.

Specifically, Mr. Van Gronigen, a former Board of Education member who proposed the formation of the Oversight Committee, contended June 11 that administrators had not provided full disclosure to the panel of the total estimated cost of the districtwide building improvement program and related projects.

Lastly, while Mrs. Johnson notes that the 49-cent tax-rate increase was approved to "implement the building improvement plan recommended by the CACF,'' the committee's plan never included the advance refunding of $6 million worth of leasehold revenue bonds that the district had issued as part of a long-term energy savings project.

Because the leasehold revenue bonds for the energy savings were not "callable'' until 2008, an escrow fund of more than $6 million was established with the certificate proceeds to make the principal and interest payments on those bonds, resulting in a savings of $126,000. When those bonds can be retired in 2008, the escrow money will make the final payment. Was that the will of the people who voted for Prop P?

Including the more than $6 million for the advance refunding of leasehold revenue bonds, the current estimated cost of Proposition P totals $92,813,408. We believe the final bill will be even greater than that.

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