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Frank requests vote to dissolve Mehlville's planning committee


September 21, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Mehlville Board of Education member Karl Frank Jr. has asked the school board to consider a motion to dissolve the district's Long Range Planning Committee, effective immediately.

Frank made the request last week to have the motion placed on the board's agenda when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, at Hagemann Elementary, 6401 Hagemann Road.

A second motion that Frank asked to be placed on next Tuesday's agenda seeks to "rescind the previous action by the Board of Education to hire an outside accounting firm to perform a partial audit of Proposition P as permitted to do so under the current contract with RubinBrown.''

The Long Range Planning Committee has been meeting since last fall to recommend a revised Comprehensive School Im-provement Plan for the school district.

Of the 26 committee members, 10 are district employees, one is a retired teacher, three are students, 11 are district parents and one lives in the district but doesn't have students attending Mehlville schools.

Asked why he believes the planning committee should be dissolved, Frank said, "The main reason for my motion to dissolve the Long Range Planning Committee is because of its failure to make their recommendations to the board in a timely manner. That's the main reason because they haven't gotten back to us in a timely manner. To me, it's become obvious in the past two weeks that the administration and some of the board members on an individual basis have already decided to seek a tax increase whether the Long Range Planning Committee recommends to do so or not.''

Frank cited an article published in July in a daily newspaper in which Patrick Wal-lace, school/community relations director, was quoted as saying, "There's no secret Mehlville needs money.'' The article went on to state that the question, Wallace said, is the timing and amount to be sought.

"Some would say that the comments from the PR department to the major city newspaper saying that's it's only a matter of when and how much, was the beginning, but to me it wasn't,'' Frank said. "The be-ginning of seeking a tax levy was the formation of the Long Range Planning Com-mittee itself.

"The facilitators have guided and steered the LRPC members in what I believe is kind of a heavy-handed way from day one. When planners came back with what they thought were good ideas, they were told they were being too specific and they should just plan to plan and from that day on, attendance at the LRPC meetings was a struggle to obtain,'' Frank said.

While administrators have described the membership of the Long Range Planning Committee as a cross-section of the community, Frank doesn't believe the panel is representative of the entire community.

"There's no clergy. There's no private school parents. There's no business owners. There's no senior citizens. There are so many people that are missing from this process and what we basically have ended up with I think is a failed attempt at a community engagement process. It doesn't compare at all to the thousands of people that we had when we tried to initially get Proposition P passed,'' said Frank, referring to the public engagement process utilized by the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities in which more than 3,000 people participated.

Frank also contended that the committee's membership includes an inordinate number of district employees. For example, of the 21 people attending a recent meeting of the panel, 11 were district employees and one was a Columbia, Ill., high school principal attending the meeting through an internship at St. Louis University — leaving only nine parents and community members.

"We need these nine people to remain loyal followers, but this really isn't a community engagement process. This is district employees kind of steering this process in a particular way in order to reach the outcome ...,'' Frank said, adding that the outcome is a "self-fulfilling prophecy'' of placing a tax-rate increase before voters.

"It's more than apparent that we're going to put the tax levy on the ballot, so let's do it and get it done as soon as possible. That's the best way to gauge what the entire community thinks about Mehlville, not just the nine people who are dedicated enough to show up and district employees,'' he said.

While Frank commends the dedication of volunteers serving on the planning panel and firmly believes Mehlville needs additional resources, he believes any tax-rate increase placed before voters in the near future is "doomed to failure.''

"There's so much going on right now that I think needs to be fixed first in the eyes of the public. All I'm doing is relaying what I believe is the general overall feeling of the public and I think they believe that we need some accountability for Proposition P. We definitely need to sort out our public relations issues that we've had in the recent past and not only that, but there are some people who believe that they've been alienated from the district and those relationships need to be healed,'' he said.

Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate in-crease. However, the board last November approved a revised Proposition P budget of $88,927,440.

Though Frank joined five other board members in voting last month to have RubinBrown perform an audit of the Prop-osition P districtwide building improvement program, he still believes an independent committee should review Propo-sition P and would like to see the contract rescinded, if possible. The board voted 6-0 with Ken Leach abstaining to have Rubin-Brown audit Proposition P for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2001, through June 30, 2005, at a cost of $15,225.

Frank said, "It's just strictly an assumption and I've made the motion with sub note 'as permitted to do so under the current contract with RubinBrown.'''

At this point, though, he said, "I have not looked at the contract closely enough to know whether or not if we can just pay for services rendered and stop now. If we can, that's what I want to look at doing.''

As previously reported by the Call, Frank met with representatives of RubinBrown and district officials to discuss the audit.

"After that meeting, it became obvious to me that a partial audit of Proposition P is basically a complete waste of taxpayer money,'' he said. "I think it would be OK to supplement an independent committee, like the one that I proposed to develop recommendations based on their findings, but other than that, it's nothing other than an attempt I think to pacify those who want accountability for the $20.5 million in overages of the Proposition P project.

"The main question and concern is why are we $20.5 million over budget and this audit would only tackle a very small percentage, if any, of that,'' Frank added.

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