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Mehlville school board members, administrator share views on funding with state legislators


February 23, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Mehlville Board of Education members and administrators recently discussed their experiences meeting with Mis-souri legislators to share their views regarding the amount of state funding the district receives.

The Mehlville School District is one of about 70 "hold-harmless'' school districts in Missouri that have received the same amount of state funding since 1993. Since 1993, Mehlville's state funding has been frozen at $771 per student.

With state and local revenue, Mehlville spends $6,533 per student compared to the state average of $7,345.

Since the beginning of the legislative session last month, Mehlville school board members and administrators have traveled several times to Jefferson City, meeting with a number of legislators, in-cluding Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis; Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay; Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville; and Rep. Sue Schoe-mehl, D-Oakville.

Bivins has introduced two proposals to eliminate Missouri's practice of freezing state funding at 1993 levels for hold-harmless school districts.

Besides meeting with legislators at the Gov. Matt Blunt's Inauguration Ball, several Mehlville board members participated in the recent Missouri School Boards Asso-ciation's Legislative Forum.

Noting that one of the Mehlville board's goals is to develop a plan to organize efforts to impact decisions at the legislative level that affect the district, Super-intendent Tim Ricker asked board members Feb. 10 to comment about their discussions with legislators.

"... It would be a good chance for the board to talk about their experience with MSBA's Legislative Day and their ability to go and talk to some of our legislators ...,'' Ricker said.

Board member Mike Heins said, "Inter-esting was definitely a word for it ... After lunch, you know we had an opportunity to go up to Sen. Kennedy's office. And it was good to sit down and talk to him and find out a little bit about his history, having represented a city area and talking to him about his background and learning that he really — I think he truly understood some of the issues that we were already concerned about. And I think he's definitely a forward thinker as far as this formula plan and willing to look at all different ideas for us ...''

Kennedy, Heins said, is "willing to try and find a fair formula for everybody in the state, which helps the Mehlville School Dis-trict out also. I think they all want to help the Mehlville School District, but as we talked to certain ones and I listened to Rita (Die-kemper) talk about some of them, I don't think they were all as enthusiastic about listening to all different kinds of ideas ...

"The goals that we would like to see through our hold-harmless, our Committee to Fund Excellent Schools, and the legislative agenda of the Cooperating School Dis-tricts, I think some are embracing and a little more than others ...,'' Heins said, noting Kennedy "certainly embraces'' those goals.

The Mehlville School District is a member of the Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools, which represents about 70 hold-harmless school districts.

Board member Rita Diekemper said, "I spent quite a bit of time with Rep. Lembke and I think that he patiently listened to what I had to say. And I think that he hasn't been as involved in our schools and I look forward to him to become more involved and more informed about what's going on in our district, and I plan to help him do that. And I think they're hearing from parents, which is important.

"I was a little bit, I guess, taken aback that some of our state-level representation didn't have more specific plans for education. But after talking to Rep. Bivins, who I also spent time with, he's indicated that those things would be forthcoming and he assured me that he would keep us informed about those things and we should all be looking for them because, of course, these are very important issues,'' she said, adding she believes the MSBA can take more of a leadership role. "I encouraged some of the leaders there on the board, you know they were administrative representatives from MSBA, to take on a little bit more of a leadership role.

"Of course, they're reluctant to do that because their constituency represents the whole state. So I think we as MSBA members need to continue to remind them of their responsibility to all children and at some point they're going to have to take a stand for what's good for the children in our state. So I think there's more work that needs to be done, but I think we're going down the right path. We established good communication with them. They know we're interested. We have the Families for Fair Formula that has increased their activity again and I know that they're working on letter writing and providing parents with some information ...,'' she said.

Families for a Fair Formula, an organization of Mehlville parents, is lobbying lawmakers to nix the state funding formula for one that gives more funding to Mehlville, or at least revamp it so Mehlville no longer is a hold-harmless district.

Board President Cindy Christopher said, "I guess I would add, too, a couple of the things that were commonalities, I guess, throughout several of our legislators, one of the things they spoke of was, you know, things that we all know, which are common sense, just like the squeaky-wheel syndrome. Several suggestions from quite of few of them to continue letter writing, you know, from our parents, that they have received a lot of letters ...''

Over the course of the legislative session, letter writing probably is the most effective way to keep an issue on the front burner, along with personally lobbying lawmakers, the board president said, noting board members have been to Jefferson City several times this session.

Ricker noted, "And I've been about three times beyond that as well for us, listening to some testimony in some of those committee meetings. And thanks, Mike, for mentioning CFES, the coalition that we belong to and it is strongly working with our lobbying group and has the ear of what we consider the committee that's probably going to be making decisions or at least providing recommendations on the rewrite ...''

He later added, "I still think, though, that we have to keep in mind that this may end up in litigation and that litigation may be the only way to break the ice of all the special-interest groups and what they want for their part of the pie, if you will. And then I think the other thing that I always have to continue to mention is that the existing formula we feel is unconstitutional, is under funded by $700 million and if anything's going to be done with that existing formula about a rewrite or with new money, it's going to be extremely difficult and it will be highly emotional ... It's in our best interests to work for the kids and to do it for no other reason but that, for the kids, and we'll continue to work hard on that endeavor ....''

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