School Board Candidate Rich Franz Aims To Correct Financial Wrongs
Rich Franz is running for the Mehlville school board in April, and believes the current board is not listening to taxpayer needs.
Rich Franz feels the current school board does not have residents’ best interests at heart.
Along with representing the average taxpayer, Franz is running to balance the budget and promote fiscal responsibility. Franz lists freezing teachers’ salaries as well as decreasing the total salary and benefits of teachers and administrators as realistic steps to accomplish budgetary goals within the district.
Franz is teaming up with fellow candidate Mark Stoner, and running as a slate for the school board. The two met at a community meeting and decided to run as a slate to send a more unified message to the taxpayers with more than one similar voice. Stoner will be profiled in the following weeks.
Franz, 52, was born in St. Louis and graduated from Lindbergh High School. After attending classes at Southeast Missouri State University, Franz worked for the City of Bridgeton. In 1979, he went into the police academy where he started a long career as a Kirkwood police officer.
In nearly 28 years on the force, Franz was a D.A.R.E. officer and taught grades 5-12 at Kirkwood schools and St. John Vianney High School. He also instructed future D.A.R.E. officers at the Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy. Franz retired from the force in 2007 and is currently working for the Monsanto Company where he is involved in protecting the assets and people who work for the company.
In his spare time, Franz and his wife spend time on their boat and travel. He is active in Southgate Church in Crestwood. Franz also considers himself a history buff, especially in Civil War era and has made contributions the Missouri Civil War Museum effort.
Franz has been married to his wife Karen for 30 years and the couple has two children. Zach, 27, is a Webster High School graduate while Anna, 25, is a graduate of Missouri Baptist University. Neither child attended Mehlville district schools. After being homeschooled, they attended parochial school and Zach graduated from Vianney, while Anna went to Rockwood Summit High School. The family did not live in the Mehlville School District at that time.
After moving to the district, Franz became concerned with the present school board after they announced that they were considering a pay increase for current superintendent Terry Noble. The raise, announced in April of 2010, would increase Noble’s salary about 24 percent, from $181,912 to $226,000. Noble did not accept the raise, and has since announced his retirement effective in July.
“I thought that sounded a little extreme to me considering we were in the worst economy in 50 years,” Franz said. “That led me to believe that perhaps the school board was not really in touch with the average taxpayer in the school district.”
Franz cited current school board President Tom Diehl’s interview with Elliott Davis on Fox 2’s “You Paid For It,” as more evidence of the board’s lack of connection to the community. In the interview, Diehl said, “My decision and the decision of this board isn’t based on how the taxpayers feel.”
Franz believes the board should represent how the taxpayers feel.
“This caused me to believe that he doesn’t appreciate the fact that the people who pay the bills in the district are the taxpayers and ultimately the owners of the school district,” Franz said.
Franz was further motivated to run when the board decided to put Proposition C on the ballot in August 2010, an 88-cent increase per $100 of assessed value.
After meeting with friend Greg Frigerio and connecting with Ken Meyer, the three decided to form an organization to counter the campaign for Prop C one month later. The Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association (MCTA) held meetings throughout the election season and organized a blog to relay their message that the board was not being realistic in how they wanted the taxpayers to support the district.
“We concluded that the logical thing to do was to oppose the tax increase and try to get the board to review their reasons for wanting to raise taxes,” Franz said.
Franz said the MCTA wanted to see if there was a way to accomplish the district’s goals of an improved infrastructure, increased technology and retain teachers without raising taxes.
Franz also saw flaws in COMPASS I and II, the district’s community engagement programs. Franz said he noticed the majority of participants were school employees, relatives of employees or people who were already involved in the district, such as PTO members. Therefore, it was not an accurate representation of the community.
After the measure’s 63 to 37 percent failure in November, Franz and Stoner continued to attend school board meetings.
The two became even more disenfranchised with the board after current board members made specific comments expressing their distaste about the results of Prop C and the district’s budget struggles.
“I was embarrassed when Mr. Ocello said he didn’t care if our bond rating was affected by lowering the district’s reserves,” Franz said. “If they don’t care about our bond rating, it affects how much we pay to borrow money. If there is any school board member that thinks their job is not to be concerned with our school bond rating, I think they are sadly mistaken.”
Franz believes his success in raising two children, and his experience with teachers while working with the D.A.R.E. program qualifies him to serve on the board. His classroom experience and working on a team while on the force led him to set priorities and learn to accomplish goals.
Franz said what he lacks in financial and administrative knowledge is made up by leadership such as Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost and Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch.
“We have people who know what they’re doing educationally and academically,” he said. “It’s not our job to be experts, our job is to know the community and their expectations and put those expectations into practice.”
Franz and Stoner have three major goals in which they’d work to accomplish if elected to the school board.
- The pair said it would first and foremost promote fiscal responsibility. They believe that the board has an opportunity to use the budget they’ve already been given by the taxpayers to accomplish the goals of providing the best academic environment for the students. The school district’s track record in working with little money has proved that they can handle a tight budget, Franz said.
“We’re looking at a $4.8-million reduction and we think that’s very doable,” Stoner said.
- The school board needs to build its credibility with the community. Franz and Stoner believe that for the community to trust the board, they need to believe the board has the residents’ fiscal health in mind.
“The board needs to be sensitive to the economic hardships that taxpayers are currently experiencing,” Franz said.
- Classroom and student achievement also needs to improve. If elected, the two would strive to see higher SAT/ACT scores and graduation rates, more students in gifted programs and a higher number of students attending college. To accomplish this goal, Franz and Stoner said that the board needs to give administrators a chance to do their jobs, and raise teachers’ standards with a level of accountability. Franz calls for a better way to review teachers. Instead of using test scores and that may cause teachers to teach based on the tests, Franz want to involve community members in the current peer performance review process.
As for specific plans to reduce spending, Franz and Stoner believe that not all cuts can come from upkeep expenses and the expectation that the economy will improve down the road.
Balancing the budget is a priority and the pair wants to see cuts across the board. Both support not only a salary freeze, but also a reduction in the salary, benefits and pensions of all Mehlville School District staff, from teachers to administration.
“I don’t think it's just about salary, we need to look at the whole salary and benefit contribution. Pensions and the PSRS (Public School Retirement System) is in the red,” Franz said. “Teachers should be willing to contribute to health benefits.”
While the two are unsure if they would support the transition from a three-tier to a four-tier bus system without further research, they are in staunch support of raising the activity fee for students.
“It’s easy to make us out to be the bad guys and say freezing and cutting salaries punishes the schools,” Franz said. “I don’t look at it that way. We’re trying to be responsible to create a solid future for the Mehlville School District. The decisions we make now financially are going to effect us in the future.”
The candidates said they would work well with the current board as long as they respected the taxpayers and allowed the administration to do their job. The role of the school board is one of oversight, Franz said.
“I’m sure that once you’re at that level of being a board member, there’s a long list of things that cross your desk that the citizens and taxpayers would like to see happen and not happen. That list would have a great effect on how you spend your time,” Franz said.