Spending money — that's easy for Mehlville
December 14, 2005 - To the editor:
Have you read the letter from the president of the Mehlville school board in the Mehlville Messenger?
If you did not get the chance, here's my interpretation:
The district needed new buildings and other capital improvements, so we guessed the cost of Proposition P would be $68 million.
A bond issue needs a four-sevenths ma-jority of the voters. Obtaining that majority is hard. So we asked for a simple majority of voters to fund the issuance of certificates of participation. That was easier. The tax levy passed. Thanks.
The initial budget of $68 million was way, way off. Sorry about that.
We did not plan well enough. Planning is hard. Many expensive items were discovered after the project got started. We in-creased the budget to $88 million, and we approved the expenditures to cover the costs of all the newfound items.
Spending money — now that's easy.
Not only did we not plan our contingencies well, we did not anticipate that the 49-cent tax levy might take $95 million from the taxpayers. Lucky for us, we'll get 40 percent more than we thought we originally needed. Better to be lucky than good. By the way, we still haven't decided whether to keep the $7 million excess or give it back. Giving it back would be hard.
We did an audit, though we really did not think it was necessary — except for that one pesky board member. The auditors said we spent all the money on the things we said we would, but we knew that already.
Well, this has been my interpretation of the school board president's letter regarding Proposition P. Now the great Proposition P is done.
But there's more to consider. If one checks the district report card at the Web site listed in the Mehlville Messenger, we see that during the time of Prop P — 2001 to 2005 — a number of things have changed.
The K-12 enrollment dropped by 474 students. Attendance increased only 0.1 percent. Graduates attending postgraduate study increased only 0.6 percent, while the percentage of students attending four-year colleges actually went down. The placement rate for career-technical education students went down.
It's still 20 students per teacher, same as in 2001. The average years of experience of professional staff dropped from 14.8 to 13.5 years. The percentage of the staff with advanced degrees is back up to where it was in 2001. Finally, the percentage of students taking the ACT college entrance exam dropped since 2001, and their composite test score has remained the same compared to 2001.
What real improvements in education did we get from Prop P?
What real improvements in education will we get from future tax increases?