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Citizens' committee promoted successful passage of Proposition P


December 28, 2005 - Fourth in a series

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

As Citizens to Protect Our Investment plan to convene next week for what's expected to be their final meeting, the Call continues its review of the Mehlville School District's Proposition P district-wide building improvement program that dates back to late 1999.

Citizens to Protect Our Investment successfully promoted the passage of Proposition P. District voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. However, the Board of Edu-cation recently approved a final budget revision that raises the cost of Proposition P 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.

The fourth installment of the chronology of the Propo-sition P districtwide building improvement program, based on Mehlville documentation and published accounts in the Call, picks up in June 2000:

• June 2, 2000 — Though a citizens' committee will not formally present its recommendation for a $70.2 million bond issue to address the Mehlville School District's facility needs until June 19, Board of Education members already have begun to debate the panel's proposal. And at least one board member — Matt Chellis — already has indicated his opposition to the recommendation of the district's Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities.

The CACF agreed to recommend that the Board of Education place a $70.2 million bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot to fund the first phase of building improvements at 17 district buildings.

During the first day of the school board's annual planning meeting, which took place at Toddhall in Columbia, Ill., members identified facilities as the district's top priority. After hearing a brief report from Superintendent John Cary about the CACF's recommendation, board members discussed the community-engagement process used to arrive at the proposal with some board members questioning both the process and the amount of the bond issue the panel is recommending. After discussing the issue for nearly 90 minutes, a majority of board members expressed support for the process and the panel's recommendation, which will formally be presented to the board June 19.

During the discussion, board member Walt Bivins said he was surprised that the committee decided upon recommending a $70.2 million bond issue, contending members "ignored'' a survey that had indicated about 60 percent support for a $50 million bond issue. "Now we've escalated it to $70 million,'' he said.

• June 19, 2000 — When Walt Bivins asked a crowd of 150 people if anyone present did not believe the school district's buildings needed to be improved, no one said a word. Bivins posed his question during a Board of Edu-cation meeting after CACF members formally presented a recommendation to place a $70.2 million bond issue be-fore voters to address the district's building needs.

"I'm just curious. Is there anybody here that doesn't think we need to do something to improve the schools in the Mehlville School District? Anybody?'' Bivins asked.

No one spoke, and Bivins said, "I thought not. I think really what we're talking about this evening from some of the comments that I heard, we're really just kind of quibbling about the edges. And I'm a good quibbler too.''

During the committee's presentation, Chairman Dan Fowler explained how the panel arrived at its recommendation, noting the proposal is the culmination of more than six months' work involving the participation of more than 3,500 community members.

Three CACF members told the board during the meeting that they have concerns about the proposed $70.2 million bond issue. But nine other CACF members, including Fowler, said the proposal addresses critical needs throughout the school district.

CACF member Joe Matuszak suggested another ap-proach to meeting the district's building needs.

"Instead of ripping off the taxpayers with a $70 million issue that's going to take 20 years out of their lives paying off and it will pay back somebody who buys the bonds two or three times what they have invested in the bonds, why not go with a five-year plan or a seven-year plan that will raise enough money — $50 million — and it cuts off at that point. Build yourself anywhere from five to six or seven schools and forget the band-aid process,'' he proposed.

"Give them what they want, everything — the air conditioning, the computer readiness, just the safety issues that you need instead of putting all the band-aids out there ... Replace the schools. Stop putting the band-aids out there. You're going to come back in a couple more years after the $70 million is blown and ask for $70 more million to do some more band-aids. Just replace the schools,'' Matuszak said, suggesting a tax-rate increase with a sunset provision of five to seven years.

Besides Fowler, a number of CACF members spoke during the panel's presentation to the board, including Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects; Emily Politte, a Mehlville Senior High School student; Bryan Van Gronigen, a middle school pupil and son of school board President Chuck Van Gronigen; Sandy Applegate, a middle school math teacher; Suellen Slais, a first-grade teacher at Bernard Elementary; and Nancy Fingerhut, a parent.

Politte told the board, "As a student at Mehlville Senior High, I do feel sincerely that this plan is a necessity for the future of our district.''

The board took no action on the panel's recommendation.

July 2000 — Chellis says he will formulate an alternate plan to address the district's building needs.

Chellis opposes the CACF's recommendation to place a $70.2 million bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot to fund the first phase of districtwide building improvements.

"I will be working on a plan with some other people over the next two months,'' Chellis said, adding his proposal would be one "without any underwriting fees or interest expense whatsoever.''

A simple majority would be required to approve the $70.2 million leasehold revenue bond issue proposed by the CACF. A tax-rate increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed valuation would be required for the $70.2 million leasehold revenue bond issue — compared to 46 cents per $100 for a general obligation bond issue, which would require ap-proval by a four-sevenths majority of voters.

The chronology continues next week.

  • Pitch It & Forget It
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