Sunday's town hall meeting by a grassroots' group called Concerned Patrons of Rockwood (CPR) included some interesting guests: three residents of the Mehlville School District who attended to lend moral as well as hands-on support.
Mehlville representatives were among a group of activists who campaigned against an 88-cent tax increase in Mehlville that voters rejected in November.
About 35 participants attended the CPR meeting at in Wildwood. taxpayer and parent Dennis Broadbooks organized the meeting in reaction to districtwide concerns expressed from parents and residents regarding Rockwood's recent hiring practices and finances.
in Eureka-Wildwood Patch this morning.
Ken Meyer, a Mehlville resident, announced he was at the meeting to explain how local activists defeated a proposed 88-cent tax increase for the Mehlville district. He said it definitely can be done with a grassroots structure.
Meyer said activists were skeptical of a $75,000 survey they said the Mehlville district commissioned from UNICOM, which they believed was designed to support the need for a tax increase.
A second Mehlville representative at Sunday's meeting, Rich Franz, was a founding member of the anti-tax group dubbed Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association. Franz ran for, and won a seat on, the Mehlville school board in April.
Meyer said the Lindbergh School District passed a 65-cent tax increase during the same time the Mehlville situation was being addressed, because there was no organized opposition to it. Half went to teacher and administrator expenses and pay raises, he said.
He said district officials justified the increase by saying teachers and administrators were getting less take-home pay, and health insurance costs of their dependents went up. The other half of the increase was used to increase the district's reserves. "They will back at the trough soon," he said.
Meyer said they got the word out about tax increase concerns in Mehlville by first having a town hall meeting. "Five former school board members became involved, and we just hammered away."
He said he believed the CPR group's assessment of the Rockwood organization chart was a good start. "This chart looks bigger than the Pentagon's. It’s mind-boggling."
Attendee Rob Thoele, a Rockwood parent from Ballwin, asked Meyer what Mehlville district officials did when they didn’t get the money.
Meyer said teachers and staff didn’t get pay raises this past year. He said they also conducted a "wonderful survey," that interestingly enough, disguised the purpose as desperately needing to build a new middle school across the street from the high school. But, since the time that the tax increase failed, he said the new school project has not even come up on school board agenda.
He and Franz indicated employee numbers and costs decreased due to attrition.
Franz encouraged the Rockwood-related attendees to organize and focus. "We would love to see other community taxpayer association groups formed across the St. Louis region," he said.
Franz, , also told attendees to reach out to available media about the topic.
"Get in touch with your chambers of commerce, too" he said. "They are never going to publicly endorse you, but they are just as interested in controlling tax dollars. They will support you."
He then suggested the group find quality candidates to run for the school board. Two candidates from the association's members ran in the April school board election. Meyer said they interviewed all nine candidates, to see which ones they believed represented taxpayers. They endorsed two candidates, and he said both were elected.
Franz said he recently met Rockwood's board of education director Keith Kinder, who told him he had a doctorate's degree in educational leadership. "I was glad to hear that, because Rockwood would really be screwed up without things like that," he said.
"District officials are often arrogant, and typically believe that you owe them your money," said Franz. "Attack them head on."
A third Mehlville resident at the meeting, Greg Frigerio, said former Mehlville Superintendent Terry Noble was getting close to becoming one of the highest paid in Missouri at $186,000 base and a proposed $44,000 raise in 2010. Noble turned down the raise and has since retired.
"We need to put an end to the insanity. You are the owners of the district. Taxpayers keep the district going. Boards sometime forget that," he said.
He called the typical tactics used by districts "the educational cartel," or instilling fear that students are not going to get good education.
"The $24,000 per student invested by the city of St. Louis doesn’t guarantee an education, does it?" he posed.
Frigerio also said the common rationale for tax increases is to keep teachers in the district. "But teachers aren’t going anywhere. We researched it, and the average Missouri teachers' experience is 13 years. There's really nowhere for them to go, and there's a bunch of great young teachers just graduating who need jobs."
The Mehlville attendees indicated that they receive between 75 and 100 applicants for every teacher opening they have.
Attendee Chris Howard said his viewpoint is that some administrators could be spared, but that he didn't want to lose teachers.
Thoele, who has served on Rockwood's finance committee, said the district's teachers are making $55,000 to $57,000 annual salaries, on average, and $80,000 to $85,000 for the more experienced ones. "I don’t see them leaving, especially in this economy," he said.
"If they (teachers) are going to leave, they are going for their own good and don’t give a damn about kids. We don’t want them," shouted one attendee in the crowd.
Frigerio said his main concern is that 75 percent of the district's funds go to salaries, pensions and benefits. "This is no longer the '80s, and it's bull that districts can't be run like businesses."
"It’s your money; my eyes got open last year. The board couldn't care less about your money. Times are bad for everybody. Until you vote every tax increase down, it's just more money they get."
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