Citizens to Protect Our Investment to convene for final meeting
December 28, 2005 - Chairman Dan Fowler will convene Citizens to Protect Our Investment next week for the first time in more than five years for what he anticipates will be the committee's final meeting.
Citizens to Protect Our Investment, the committee that promoted passage of the Mehlville School District's Prop-osition P five years ago, will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4, at the Cliff Cave Branch County Library, 5430 Tel-egraph Road.
The meeting is being called, Fowler told the Call, at the request of members of Citizens Protecting Our Investments, a newly formed committee that is promoting passage of the Mehlville School District's Proposition A, a 97-cent tax-rate increase voters will consider Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Andrea Keller, co-chairman of Citizens Protecting Our Investments, contacted Fowler and asked if her committee could have any funds remaining from the old committee.
Fowler did not know the exact amount of money left from the 2000 Proposition P campaign, but said Citizens to Protect Our Investment Treasurer Gloria Hartman told him that slightly more than $3,000 remains.
"I received a phone call from Andrea Keller, asking if we would turn the funds over, and I told her that I didn't think that Gloria Hartman or I had the authority to do that on our own,'' Fowler said. "So therefore, I felt I needed to call a community meeting. After all, it's not my money. Since it was a community process and it was a community-driven campaign, I really feel it's up to the community to make that determination. So depending upon who shows up, those are the people who are going to make the decision about turning that money over to the new committee.''
The meeting format will include a treasurer's report and a period for public comment. After public comment, Fowler will call for a motion — "which I will have written out'' — to dissolve the Citizens to Protect Our Investment and transfer the remaining funds to the new committee.
Fowler served on the Board of Education from 1989 to 1998. In 1992, voters approved a $29.5 million no-tax-rate-increase bond issue, and in 1998, voters approved the elimination of the Proposition C sales-tax rollback, which increased the district's tax rate by 33 cents.
In October 1999, Fowler was asked to serve as chairman of the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities, which formulated the recommendation that ultimately became Proposition P. After the board voted to place Proposition P on the ballot, Fowler then served as chairman of the Citizens to Protect Our Investment. Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase.
While Fowler oversaw the success of such measures as Proposition P and the elimination of the Proposition C sales-tax rollback, five other ballot measures designed to address the district's technology and facility needs were defeated from February 1995 to April 1999.
"One thing you have to understand about Prop P and Citi-zens to Protect Our Investment, we literally learned the lessons of all of our other mistakes. There is no one that made more mistakes in running tax levies than myself and we learned by trial and error,'' Fowler said. "The whole CACF and Citizens to Protect Our Investment were lessons learned on what it takes to pass a successful levy in the Mehlville School District. And those lessons are you must have a full-blown public engagement process that includes critics, parochial parents, senior citizens, business leaders, clergy, parents, teachers and students, and resolve any issues that linger in the minds of the community.
"So in order to do that, this is my opinion, you have to have a true full public engagement process involving all segments of the community,'' he continued. "That's been my experience. That's why the CACF was so successful and ultimately Prop P was successful. We included over 3,000 people and got their input. In particular, we targeted critics of the school district and we targeted parochial parents through that process, and made sure they were included in the decision-making process of the Mehlville School District.''
The Board of Education voted last month to place Prop-osition A on the February ballot. If approved by voters, the district's operational tax rate would increase to a "blended'' rate of $4.27 per $100 of assessed valuation — roughly a 29.4 percent increase over the current blended rate.
Asked about Proposition A, Fowler said, "I think that, first of all, the people who are running Prop A are very genuine, very sincere people who are looking out for the best interests of their children — good people. I think that the people who are running Prop A have a got a big hill to climb. I think it's going to be very difficult to pass Prop A for a number of reasons ... I think that February is a very difficult month, and I say this out of experience because I was involved in many tax levies and bond issues throughout my nine years as a board member, and obviously ended up running Prop P. So a lot of this I say out of many years of experience .... February's a tough month to pass a tax levy.''
He added, "If Mehlville wants to be serious about passing a tax levy in the future, they have to do a true community engagement process. The Long Range Planning Commit-tee, in my judgment and in my view, did not do enough to include the rest of the Mehlville School District community — for example, senior citizens, parochial parents, critics, business leaders and clergy. The majority of it cannot be made up of school district parents and employees. That is a recipe for failure.''
Noting that the board voted earlier this month to increase the cost of the Proposition P budget to $89,137,440 — a roughly 30.3 percent increase — more than $20.7 million over the nearly $68.4 million building improvement program envisioned in 2000, Fowler said he believes it will be difficult to obtain voter approval of a tax-rate increase un-til Mehlville puts the "ghost'' of Proposition P to rest.
"School district officials want to put Prop P behind them, but the community is never going to put Prop P behind it until there is a full accounting of what went wrong, and I believe that Prop P will haunt the Mehlville School District for many years to come like a ghost. And it will keep coming back until it is properly addressed,'' he said.
"It is extremely difficult even under the best of circumstances to pass a tax levy in the Mehlville School District,'' Fowler said. "Assuming that everything has gone right for the last four or five years, even under those circumstances with everything going right, it would be an uphill fight to pass a tax levy in the Mehlville School District. Any time that you get up over 50 cents on a tax levy, your chances of passing a tax levy decrease dramatically. And I would have to honestly say while I wish these people the very best, I think it will be extremely difficult and I would be very surprised to see a 97-cent tax increase pass.''