Frank, Leach join Mehlville school board, look to boost test scores, accountability
April 13, 2005 - The Mehlville Board of Education will have two new faces this year as Secretary Marea Kluth-Hoppe lost a bid for her second term and Vice President Matthew Chellis did not seek election to a third term.
Voters chose newcomers Karl Frank Jr. and Ken Leach along with board President Cindy Christopher to help lead the district for the next three years.
Frank wants district accountability. Leach wants stronger performance on state-mandated assessment tests.
Christopher did not return messages from the Call, and Kluth-Hoppe has been un-available for comment.
Leach garnered the majority of the vote, roughly 28 percent, while Christopher received 27 percent and Frank mustered 23 percent of the vote, edging Kluth-Hoppe by 2 percent.
Roughly 15 percent of registered voters in the district went to the polls April 5 in an election that saw voter turnout slighter higher than usual.
Asked about his top priority, Leach said he first needs to quickly learn the ins and outs of the Mehlville School District and then hopes to help improve Mehlville's performance on state and federal mandates.
The district dropped 27 points on its Annual Performance Report this year. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issues an Annual Performance Report for each school district in the state, detailing how each district met Missouri School Improvement Plan performance measures and Missouri Assessment Program standards.
For the past two years, the Mehlville School District has earned the Distinction in Performance Award, earning a perfect score of 100 points. To qualify for the award, districts must meet 11 of 12 MSIP performance standards, which include MAP test scores, ACT test scores, advanced course offerings, college placement, vocational placement, dropout rate and attendance rate.
"With our MAP scores we need to look at it individually, what students' individual needs are," Leach told the Call.
"I would hope that there's some way I can help get more one-on-one (teaching) time with the students rather than just with the group," he added. "Maybe it's going to be lower student-teacher ratios or some type of additional programs, anything that's affordable."
Frank, meanwhile, wants more discussion and more accountability.
"With Ken Leach and I, hopefully we'll be able to get things out on the table and have more discussion," said Frank, who ran unsuccessfully for a board seat last year.
Throughout his campaign this year, Frank has criticized the current board for not holding administrators accountable. His main goal is repairing the district's reputation by establishing accountability to the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, which began as a $64.8 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase, but now is more than $20 million over budget.
He wants to establish a committee of residents and professionals, not employees or district contractors, to analyze Proposition P and offer suggestions for the board to improve the district's public image.
"It would not be moderated or run by the district in any way," he said. "The committee could make recommendations for the board so this doesn't happen again, and we can gain back the public trust. This committee could allow us to determine specific faults and say, 'Yeah, we made some mistakes, but we're not going to let it happen again.'
"But the first thing you need to do is admit that you have a problem," he continued.
"To me, the best PR (public relations) is good grades, happy students and happy teachers. They all speak for themselves," Frank said.
Public relations may be particularly important as the district struggles to patch a projected budget deficit for the coming school year.
Expenditure reductions of more than $2 million would be needed for the coming school year to maintain a 3 percent operating fund balance, according to preliminary budget assumptions recently presented to the Board of Education, and avoid the state's financially distressed list. Without new revenue, cuts are inevitable.
"We have to stay out of the classroom," Frank said. "To me, if it's a choice between going on the state's financially distressed list or having more textbooks in the classrooms, I choose textbooks in the classrooms. That's sounding the wake-up alarm and saying: 'We are in trouble. We do need help.' So that can be a good thing."
Retiring Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed has said a tax-rate increase may be the most viable answer to Mehlville's fiscal woes.
Leach isn't sure that's even an option. Frank didn't either, citing the district's public image.
"I don't know what kind of chance we have to do that," Leach said. "I don't have a problem putting that out to the voters and letting them decide because we're not going to do anything that they're not going to let us do anyway."
In the meantime, he said, "What you try to do is look for waste ... be a little more frugal. I don't know if that's happening right now or not but I think it needs to be looked at."
If expenditure cuts become the only option, "I would definitely cut administrators before teachers," Frank said.
Frank, Leach and Christopher were scheduled to take their oaths of office at a special board meeting Monday night — after the Call went to press.