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Mehlville board member still believes independent committee should review Proposition P


September 14, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

After meeting last week with representatives of the firm that will audit the Proposition P districtwide building im-provement program, Mehlville Board of Education member Karl Frank Jr. still believes an independent committee should review Proposition P.

The Board of Education voted 6-0 last month to have RubinBrown perform the audit of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2001, through June 30, 2005, at a cost of $15,225. Board member Ken Leach abstained.

Frank, who originally had sought on independent panel to review Proposition P, met last Friday with Mark Jansen, a certified public accountant with Rubin-Brown. Also present, Frank said, were another representative of RubinBrown, plus Superintendent Tim Ricker, Chief Financial Officer Stephen Keyser and Board of Edu-cation President Rita Diekemper.

During the meeting Frank expressed his concerns about what he considers to be "major oversights'' and "inconsistencies'' with Proposition P, he told the Call.

Voters in November 2000 approved Prop-osition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. How-ever, the school board voted in November to approve a revised Proposition P budget of $88,927,440.

Given his "low expectations'' about the scope of the RubinBrown audit, Frank still would like to see an independent committee review Proposition P.

"The reason why I voted for allowing the audit to take place is because I felt like it was better than nothing, but as the auditors from RubinBrown said at this meeting we had that they're not going to make value judgments,'' he said, noting that Keyser previously had told the board "that this audit is not covering a review of architectural or en-gineering requirements or building design.''

"What I wanted with an independent committee of various citizens and parents was taking professional looks at the whole process — your public relations, your accounting, your architecture, your construction contracts — and using that hindsight, that 20-20 hindsight that we do have right now, that we're fortunate to have, and go back and look at what we did wrong, what we could have done better, if anything, or say what we've done right. That's what would have happened with this independent committee,'' Frank said. "There would have been, what I believe, would have been some more accountability, which is what is necessary to set things straight with the public so that we can move Mehlville forward.''

Frank had sought an independent panel to review Proposition P on May 12, but five board members voted against the proposal, while Leach abstained. After that meeting, district administrators and Die-kemper formulated a motion to solicit re-quests for proposals from CPAs to conduct an independent audit of Proposition P.

The board on June 16 defeated a substitute motion by Frank calling for the formation of both an independent committee to review Proposition P and to seek proposals from CPAs for an independent audit of Proposition P. At that same meeting, the board voted 6-1, with Frank opposed, to issue a request for proposals for certified public accountants to audit Proposition P.

Frank said June 16 that a review of Prop-osition P by an independent committee was needed to regain the public trust and move the school district forward. Without such a review, Frank contended, future efforts to acquire additional funding from the community would be certain to fail.

But board members opposed to Frank's motion countered that any further review of Proposition P is unnecessary, as Frank's proposal would duplicate much of the work of the Proposition P Oversight Committee whose membership still includes two board members, Diekemper and Tom Correnti.

Frank, who was elected to the board in April, believes that some board members plan to place a tax-rate increase before voters in the near future and are gearing up the campaign machine for that effort.

Based on his conversations with other board members, Frank told the Call, "Their hope is that with this audit that this will clear the air with the public and then they can just not worry about Proposition P any more ... They're using this audit of Prop-osition P as a way to what they hope will be a way to bury Proposition P so they can move forward with their tax levy.''

Frank agrees Mehlville is working with limited funds and needs more resources, but told the Call he doesn't believe it's possible to pass a tax-rate hike until voters see increased accountability, particularly with Proposition P.

As for some board members' contention that an independent committee would dup-licate the work of the Oversight Commit-tee, Frank doesn't buy that and sees a conflict of interest, noting that Diekemper and Correnti still serve on the panel.

"... I definitely think there was a little bit of a conflict of interest because they don't want to be reviewed in any kind of way. As Ken Leach had said in one of the board meetings, and I agree that we see the CACF, the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Fa-cilities, as the intro (committee), the Oversight Committee as the process during the time and then our committee that we were proposing would have been a review committee to review the effectiveness of those first two committees, plus Proposi-tion P as it came out,'' he said.

"So the conflict of interest that I see is that not only by having two board members, but also by having two administration officials serve on the committee as well, that essentially you have two board members and two administration officials overseeing two board members and two administration officials, so it's a conflict of interest for sure,'' he said, citing district documents and approved board minutes in which Ricker and former Chief Financial Officer Randy Charles were included along with those who were appointed and reappointed to the Oversight Committee on Sept. 23, 2003, by the school board.

Frank also said the scope of the Rubin-Brown audit won't include people he be-lieves should be contacted for their views.

"There are a lot of people out there that ... the district isn't going to include in this audit, isn't going to ask them questions that I think definitely should be included in this. That's another reason I wanted the independent committee was to make sure that it's all inclusive and, for instance, how can you do a proper audit of the process of Proposition P, if you don't talk to the chairman of the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities, who is Dan Fowler, two-time board president and board member for nine years, who basically spearheaded the whole project to get Proposition P passed. It's not just him. There are other members, too. How do you do a true audit by not bringing people like this into it and hear what concerns they may have because they experienced it ...,'' he said.

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