Imagine your response to this scenario. An elected school board member is asked about an action he and his fellow board members took. He responded: ”"My decision and the decision of the board is not based on how the taxpayers feel.”
Unfortunately, this is not a “what if” scenario. This is the actual response from the Mehlville Public School District School Board President Tom Diehl.
Now let’s be clear. School Board members serve at no pay. They are elected volunteers who are supposed to serve the patrons of the district in providing the best education possible. Most do the best job they can. Unfortunately, some forget who they actually serve and either believe that they work for the administration or, worse yet, that they are above questioning by those who put them in place.
Mr. Diehl and others on the Mehlville School Board appear to have reached the latter point of view.
Take, for example, the recent vote to place a 25% tax levy increase on the November ballot. I’m not sure, but perhaps they have missed the fact that the country is in an economic recession. But like most school districts and boards, they use the tired and worn refrain “it’s for the children” to justify their actions. It has been my experience that as soon as that phrase is deployed, it is usually the last resort for those lacking a winning argument for what they want to do.
The Mehlville School Board doesn’t have a stellar track record in making good decisions. One doesn’t have to look far to see this fact demonstrated.
Take the salary offer they made to their superintendent this year. They offered him a whopping $44,088 increase (roughly 24%) plus a $25,000 bonus to stay on as superintendent, according to the Post-Dispatch. Teachers were being given approximately a 3% increase.
A little problem developed. The district wanted to put a tax increase on the ballot to raise approximately $106 million. It seems that when focus groups were asked about the superintendent salary increase, they were very much inclined NOT to vote for the tax levy.
As a result, the superintendent decided he really didn’t need all that money and settled for a measly 6% increase in salary. After all, the other 18% that he would have received “was for the children.”
Apparently the superintendent and the board, which rescinded the offer after the superintendent decided he didn’t need it after all, think that by declining and rescinding the outrageous salary increase that all is forgiven. District residents should remember that the offer was made, it was considered and that only after the focus groups indicated that the salary increase could cause problems for the tax levy increase was it “declined” and “rescinded”.
Fortunately, a grass roots group has sprung up to fight this ill-timed and ill-considered tax levy increase. According to the Call and its website, the Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association (MCTA) was formed to
“oppose the Mehlville School District’s Proposition C, citing what it contends is the Board of Education’s lack of credibility and the community’s inability to afford the proposed 88-cent tax-rate increase.“
Now, it’s not uncommon for there to be opposition to tax levy increases. Groups often spring up in opposition to such proposals. But in this case and under these economic conditions, a 25% tax levy increase is rather outrageous. I guess that’s why the Call reports that the opposition includes,
“four former Mehlville Board of Education members — Kurt Witzel, Dick Roehl, Matt Chellis and state Rep. Walt Bivins — have voiced their opposition to Prop C. Also opposed is Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer, who helped lead an effort to defeat the school district’s Proposition A — a 97-cent tax-rate increase — in February 2006.”
(You can hear Aaron Hilmer’s discussion with a supporter of the tax levy on the Mark Reardon show on KMOX here.)
It’s apparent that the opposition is more than just a few people who are against yet another tax increase. It’s opposed by some very knowledgeable people who make some very good points about why now is not the time for a 25% increase in the tax levy during these economic times. -Carl Bearden