Former Mehlville School Board Member Apologizes to Community for "Information Collusion" with Call Newspapers

Even with the best intentions, I practiced some of the most unethical of politics. Here is my apology and a challenge to current and future board members.

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Since Call Newspapers founding in 1989, elected Mehlville School Board members and aspiring Mehlville School Board members have worked with them in a kind of information collusion and conspiracy. I know this firsthand because for five and a half years, I was a part of it.

I can imagine that they would say, “Don’t forget where you came from,” and they would be right. (And I'll likely pay a hefty price when they feel the time is right, since retribution is a common practice of theirs.)  It was my connections to Call Newspapers that afforded me the name recognition and prominence that I needed to win election. I lost in 2004, but won the next two, 2005, and 2008. By staying in contact with “The Call” on a regular basis I was able to bully my ideas and thoughts into the minds of almost every mailbox in South County.

And it wasn’t just me. Call Newspapers is the alpha-power behind the Mehlville School District and nothing substantial happens without their permission.  (They had a direct hand in the influence required in hiring two of the worst superintendents in the district’s history, including the one they hate the most.) Therefore, even though many otherwise upstanding citizens preferred not too, they did and still continue to treat Call Newspapers as a necessary evil in getting any minimal accomplishment achieved.  

Sometimes I would refer to them in closed session and other meetings as, “The 8th and most powerful board member.”  I can’t tell you how many times we heard or said, “Maybe we should run it by Call Newspapers first.”

If they didn’t like something, I was the one they called or emailed.  If I wanted to prop up an idea, I was the one who called or emailed them.  If I had board members that I wanted them to support, all I did was walk them into the office and introduce them.  Bam!...endorsed.  

Kind of sad and unethical how politics and newspapers sometimes run a community isn’t it?  

The only group of Board Members to ever decide to stand up and fight Call Newspapers lost their battle with great costs to their reputations, as well as that of the District's.  That group of board members was Rita Diekemper, Cindy Christopher, Mike Heins, Bill Schornheiser, Tom Correnti, and Marea Kluth-Hoppe. 

To these people, when I resigned in 2010, I apologized.  Why?  Because I found out first hand what it was like to start to assert your independence in trying to do what you believed was the right thing for the Mehlville School District. I was let down, humiliated, and incredibly sad. I thought the ends justified the means, but instead, I learned that I was just a pawn in their game of power...power over the lives and futures of 10,000 children and those who have dedicated their lives to teaching them.

There is a real problem with coming out and taking on Call Newspapers like this. As I have said and been told a million times, “You don’t pick fights with people who buy their ink by the barrel.”  

Well, Ink is an interesting word and has many definitions.  My favorite is the following from Ambrose Bierce’s ‘The Devil’s Dictionary.’

“INK, n. A villainous compound...chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to blacken them and to make them white; but it is most generally and acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones of an edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal quality of the material. There are men called journalists who have established ink baths which some persons pay money to get into, others to get out of. Not infrequently it occurs that a person who has paid to get in pays twice as much to get out.”

I never paid any money, (unless you count my ads) but there definitely was a cost of getting "in" and exponential costs in trying to get "out".  My parting gift?  One of the most competent Superintendents this district has seen since its inception.

My challenge now, for current and future board members, is not to fight Call Newspapers, but to treat all of the press in an ethical and equal manner.  Answer their calls and answer their questions, but colluding and conspiring with them to control the policies and direction of the Mehlville School District is unethical and demeaning to them as people and a great disservice to the Mehlville Community -especially our classroom teachers and the children they serve.

My intention, from this point forward, is to develop a statement of press ethics for future and current board members and will ask them to pledge to keep their press communications ethical.  I will post this pledge as soon as it is complete for all to see.

As I said above, at the time of my resignation, I apologized to the school board members whose reputations I helped destroy, but there is still a group of people to whom I have not apologized, and that is the Mehlville Community as a whole.  While I am proud of a lot of what I accomplished for the district, our community, and our children, I am profoundly ashamed of what I felt I had to do to make it happen.

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Jason Wescoat July 31, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Interesting story, Karl. I didn't know anyone even read the Call. I certainly don't waste my time anymore on poor writing and sloppy work. What I'm curious about is the timing of this piece. Why now and why not before the previous election? Why now and not later shortly before a school board election? I would have thought that timing might have had more of an impact. If the Call is really "controlling" someone like Franz, why would you have ever had anything to do with it, or why would they have had anything to do with you? Has it changed so much in two years that it would have just recently supported you and now supports someone who has some minor *cough cough* philosophical differences? If you would, please help me understand how they can have so much power. Thanks!
Jason Wescoat July 31, 2012 at 05:00 AM
As a side note, it's pretty often in these comments sections that people take words out of context (sometimes though it's directly in context, as with the "put up or shut up" and "basic education" comments...smh). For example, when Franz called it "daycare," he wasn't suggesting that the teachers or the district would think of it as daycare or treat it as such. He was directing that daycare comment at parents who don't want to be involved in the lives of their kids anymore than they have to and are desperate to get them out of the house as quickly as possible. Comments abound on Facebook about parents being super excited to get kids back to school. It's because they want the "daycare," it provides. Obviously, the vast majority of teachers don't see it that way, but many parents do. Early Childhood Education would fit the same bill. I'm not saying it can't be valuable and that I think you're wrong. However, where you (Karl) and I differ most significantly is that you have essentially given up on parents in general doing their job of training up their kids and it's up to the state/public education to take over. Teachers and administrators think the same thing, in part because of garbage NCLB act forces them to take over or risk losing status and/or funding. I think it's a pretty sad state of affairs. One thing you'll never get me to disagree on is paying teachers more. Just wish we could control more budget dollars to shift monies to priorities like education.
D Seidel July 31, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Jason (and others), when was the last time you voted in a Mehlville Board of Education election? That is the REAL problem among registered Mehlville voters aged 25-49. Quit complaining and VOTE in April elections!
Karl Frank Jr. July 31, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Jason, We agree more than you think. It will all make more sense once I have finished drafting the News Media Ethics pledge with the Mehlville Community Taxpayers for Mehlville. The Mehlville School District lacks the resources and facilities necessary for the kind of education that is necessary in the 21st Century global economy. And, believe it or not, there are good teachers and there are bad teachers, and while they like to do what they do, they are self-interested individuals too. The difference between a highly effective teacher and an ineffective teacher can be as much as two grade levels lost in 1 year. The MCTM supports the Missouri Constitution on public education and we believe that the Mehlville Community is not doing enough to support the community's foundation, which is our public education system. This again will make more sense when the pledge is ready for viewing. We agree in that parents make a difference. As a matter of fact, the socioeconomic status of a student is the number one indicator of traditional measurements of success in their adult lives. But there are things that schools can do that parents can not do on their own using the resources of the community to make it happen. Parents are responsible for taking their kids over and above, Missouri and the Mehlville community are responsible for providing a solid foundation for all students regardless of socioeconomic status.
Jason Wescoat August 01, 2012 at 01:06 AM
I'm not sure why condescension and "yelling" via capital letters were necessary to respond to me. However, to answer your question, I voted in the last two school board elections. Frankly, predating my kids getting near school, I didn't pay much attention to the school board. In my opinion, that is the problem with the Mehlville School District. There has historically been little to no interaction with the local community. Dr. Knost seems to be trying to fix that. Get the community involved, and it will have its money. Have the community thinking your spending money unwisely (no matter the truth, perception is truth in the voting booth), and it will continue to struggle, thereby continuing the "brain drain" of teachers to other districts, lowering the number of quality teachers, etc...
Jason Wescoat August 01, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I'll reiterate my point above and add a thought. Get the community involved in the district and shoot for little tax increases on a regular basis, don't just ignore the community and then go asking for significant tax increases every once in a while. I don't know all we pay for with our local taxes beyond education and protection, but somehow it does need to be a priority more then it is now.
Karl Frank Jr. August 01, 2012 at 01:41 AM
That misperception of fiduciary irresponsibility is a direct result of information collusion between board members and Call Newspapers. I know this first hand.
D Seidel August 01, 2012 at 04:40 AM
COMPASS I, COMPASS II, can't make people attend or join the discussion even though every paper, marquee and Messenger announced. No increase in 30+ years, so yes, a bigger increase is needed. Yes, multiple smaller increases during better economic times would have been wise, but Mehlville voters were complacent. Now would be the time to reinvest while interest rates are at historic lows. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Now we have groups actively campaigning against public education and any tax increase. Oh, and two of them sit on our school board. Again, complacent non-voters ALLOWED this to happen. Getting parents (public and private schoolers) to the polls in APRIL is a step in the right direction. April 2013 and 2014 will be critical in maintaining and restoring the path for Mehlville students and homeowners.
D Seidel August 01, 2012 at 04:43 AM
In addition, Franz has already ripped Lindbergh for their multiple increases. Do you really think her will EVER support a dime for our schools? Yep, a dime was what he pitched a fit over last fall when the board wanted to roll up the tax rate. A dime.
Paul Anderson August 01, 2012 at 12:32 PM
First of all....Karl you should be ashamed!! nothing like ruining your own reputation and dragging the school district in the mud with you. Jason, you answer some of your own questions in your 8:06pm post, you mention that predating your kids attending school, you did'nt pay much attention to the school board, how about the district do you interact with it? Why not? Every school hosts open houses, Every Elementary school has a school picnic all open to the community. Every school board meeting is open to the community (and held in a little bitty room because the few show up) Mehlville and Oakville have several sporting events during the school year - all open to the public. Have you ever swam in the Mehlville Pool? its open to the public including swimming lessons. They did attempt to draw people in with the COMPASS events. How can you say the Mehlville School District doesn't interact with the community? Have you ever thought maybe its the other way around.....The Mehlville community doesn't interact with the Mehlville School District? I have "interacted" with the Mehlville School district for the past 15 years and yes it is directly related to my 3 kids attending Mehlville schools,I can attest that apaty is nothing new in the district. I call it the STP complex - you see the Same Ten People at every event. Mehlville Families it time for YOU to get involved in your district - we can lead the community to the well, just can't make them drink!
Karl Frank Jr. August 01, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Paul, I am ashamed. Read the last sentence of the post. And it continues to this day. It's time for it to stop. I obviously made the calculation to sacrifice what was left of my reputation to try and bring this unethical behavior to an end...and I have thousands of pages of proof. Mehlville will never be able to accomplish anything significant for this community as long as Call Newspapers exist in its current form and as long as individual board members continue to empower them. They don't just cover what happens in Mehlville. Call Newspapers actively participates in the news it covers.
D Seidel August 01, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Well said, Paul! We attended board meetings and building tours during Prop P campaign, long before becoming parents. If you are a "no nester", you still have a real estate investment. Property values are directly tired with schools. They are the barometer for neighborhood integrity.
Jason Wescoat August 03, 2012 at 04:07 PM
As Karl is so fond of saying, and of course he's right, this is the 21st Century. While I can't comment on any of the older generations, putting info in the Call or the Messenger of on the marquee is just as useful to a majority of my generation as your telling your husband in your home about the meeting. We're not going to notice or care. Where we're likely to see it is driving by a school, but "COMPASS meeting on Thursday" meant nothing to me then. I had no idea what it was, and no specific reason to look it up. We all only have 24 hours a day, and extra time spent on something that is of minor concern to most people not in the school system (sorry, but the property value argument doesn't hold a lot of weight with me, too many other variables on that value) isn't something most people have the time to deal with. Again, as I play devil's advocate, give me a reason to put significant effort into caring about the school system if my kids don't go there or won't be soon. Regardless of the level of need, something is better than nothing. A huge tax increase in one of the worst economic times in American history was a mistake, plain and simple. The marketing of that plan was a disaster as well. Regular and reasonable smaller increases would become the norm and expected, no matter when they were implemented.
Jason Wescoat August 03, 2012 at 04:08 PM
You never take anyone's word for anything and neither do I. I'm not saying you're necessarily wrong here, as I have zero knowledge. However, is this something you can prove?
Jason Wescoat August 03, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Again, give me a reason if I don't have kids in or near school age. A school picnic is primarily for the kids at the school. Why do I care about an open house to see school rooms I have nothing to do with? Why would I care what a COMPASS meeting was about? Why would I want to go to an unbearably hot indoor pool? I don't disagree that the community doesn't interact. However, the district is asking for things from the community. Historically, the interaction attempts by the district haven't worked. It's their, and mine now as a PTO board member with two MSD students, to continue the process of more effectively engaging that has been better in the past couple of years. To continue your metaphor, if the community isn't thirsty, they have no reason to drink. Make the community thirsty.
Karl Frank Jr. August 03, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Jason, this is why you should care: http://mehlville-oakville.patch.com//blog_posts/missouri-constitution-knowledge-and-intelligence-essential-to-rights-and-liberty#
Paul Anderson August 03, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Well I guess if the community is not thirsty, they aren't hungry for knowledge either so no matter what the district does they don't care. Other than opening their doors I'm not sure what else the district can do, because the next complaints will be because of the mailings, billboards and TV commercials trying to engage the community. I applaud you if you are now a PTO member, and look forward to you becoming a part of the solution instead of the problem.
Jason Wescoat August 03, 2012 at 05:52 PM
What 54 year old is going to gain knowledge from an elementary school open house? Also, calling others part of the problem in the past when you know exceptionally little about them is a poor choice if you want people to your side. I think the district would have more money than it knew what to do with if instead of board members taking an antagonizing stance against the people in the community, on both sides, instead engaged with the businesses both big and small and provided value to the people with the money to give. That is my entire goal this year on the PTO board, to do so in my little world at Bierbaum. People are selfish, and we have to deal with that reality.
Jason Wescoat August 03, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Here's the thing, you haven't convinced most people that the school district isn't providing knowledge and intelligence. Almost nobody would disagree that things could always be better, but what's the cost and what will the people get back? Are you saying the district is doing such a poor job that liberty is at stake in Mehlville in the near future? I admit, it's a hard path to follow because if you do, you're essentially bashing the very program you were a part of for nearly 6 years. For the record, as I usually am on here, I'm playing devil's advocate. I agree more money is necessary. So far, most of the people suggesting more money have essentially spent their time "yelling" and bashing the community for being a bunch of losers. That method isn't going to work. All that's done is galvanize a significant portion of the community against the MSD, which is bad for all of us.
Karl Frank Jr. August 03, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Jason, overall, yes. That's what I am saying. An intelligent and knowledgeable populace is essential to our rights and liberties. Mehlville is somewhat of a poster child for a 20th Century manufacturing economy that doesn't exist anymore. Don't get me wrong, they're doing the best they can, and at least they aren't ruled by the Texas Board of Education, but I don't think our community, or much of America realizes what is at stake here. All you have to see is where our students rank in mathematics, science, etc. by comparison to the rest of the world. The thing is, educators know what to do to fix it, but they don't have the resources to do it. Public education needs to be re-invented for our global economy and while schools and communities are up to the task, like Kirkwood, others, like Mehlville are not. In the end, our rights and liberties are at stake. An uneducated populace will eventually find themselves ruled by a much different kind of government or world than they are accustomed. For example, the amount of Americans that don't understand the science behind evolution is just willful ignorance, but the willful ignorance surrounding the science behind climate change due to man-made global warming is a direct threat to our rights and liberties...including basic health and the right to live in the first place. Critical thinking skills are essential and our 1950s manufacturing style school system is dangerous to humanity's future..
Karl Frank Jr. August 03, 2012 at 08:32 PM
The message that was lost during the Proposition C campaign, (partly because we didn't get it approved from Call Newspapers) was that the campaign was never about passing a tax increase. It was about showing the community what was possible to accomplish for our district for the cost of a pack of gum a day. Part of the message that was never told, because our side of the story was never told, was that we were ok with losing the tax levy. The point was to show what was possible and to give the community a say. Most of the reason why the message was lost was because inappropriate weight was given misinformation and a small group of naysayers that had no idea what they were talking about other than that all government is bad, especially schools and teachers. We were fine with losing Prop C and then coming back with something smaller. Again, that side of the story was never heard, because the Call didn't want anyone to know that is what we thought, no matter how much we tried. It didn't fit the news they were making and then reporting on. That's when I lost faith in my community and especially what I considered a friendship with Call Newspapers. They showed me their true colors during that campaign. In the end, I don't really blame the community any more. They allow themselves to be misinformed, but other than that, I cast no further blame. I do think the parents of the children in the district have let their own kids down, as well as the next generation.
Jason Wescoat August 03, 2012 at 08:51 PM
While I have no argument on the Call Newspapers because I don't read them, my comment was based on the flyers that went out. The community was basically yelled at for screwing over the school system. Even if that is completely accurate, berating people with those mailings wasn't the way to make change happen. I know the rankings are lower then they were before, but I don't know the methodology of those tests. There have certainly been tests designed to make the US look bad more than once (i.e. healthcare in America sucks). Disagreement on science is not always willful ignorance. Sometimes it is, but not always. I talk to scientists literally every working day of my life, and if they don't agree on these "settled" issues, how can you or I expect those without the education to all agree? Besides, if you're going to claim that education leans "conservative," I'm pretty sure you'd get some pretty strong disagreement. While there are pretty consistent court cases that lean that way, the court cases wouldn't be there if the education system did lean conservative.
Karl Frank Jr. August 04, 2012 at 03:28 AM
There is no disagreement with mainstream scientists on evolution or manmade global warming causing climate change. Our whole modern healthcare system is predicated on the firmer. Our entire future depends on our immediate mitigation of the latter. Standardized tests are the same around the world and there is no gigantic conspiracy to make the USA look bad. We are ranked low because our scores are low. the entire bottom half of the country brings our overall scores down...that can be seen simply by looking at education rankings by state. Don't worry...I have no hopes for the Mehlville Community to be as enlightened as the Kirkwood community....at least not as long as Call Newspapers exists in its current form.
Karl Frank Jr. August 04, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Ed Taylor August 04, 2012 at 11:10 PM
@Bob: since you teach in the Parkway District, I presume you could have your children attend those schools. If I were to choose between the two districts, I would send my child to Parkway. They have so much more money available to them and their student body is much more diverse. For the record, I do not live in the district and my wife and I homeschooled our child through HS for pedagogical (not religious) reasons.
Mike Stevens October 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Karl--I would love to see more updates to this post regarding collusion with the Call. Please give us more information, and, since it would be factual and contain proof, it should stray away from libel. The Call uses choice words when they want to "report" on the news--things like "pay hike" or "tax hike" make readers think of a huge increase when in fact it may only be a few cents or dollars. I think this is important because it's clear that Aaron Hilmer has the same type of relationship you describe with the Call. As another poster wrote, articles about the Fire District seem to be fewer, especially since Tim White "resigned". Please, more information!!
Karl Frank Jr. October 16, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Mike, I hear you, but it doesn't serve any purpose to post anything like that at this point. I have no concerns about libel, and they know as well as I do that I don't have anything to worry about in this area. As you say, hyperbole is very powerful and is why Mehlville will never be able to accomplish anything truly significant for its community as long as Call Newspapers exists. They are allowed to be exceptionally mediocre; as high as you can get and still be mediocre. The admin and teachers know what to do to squeeze blood from a turnip to achieve that exceptional mediocrity, but they don't have the resources they need to be truly exceptional and never will - as long as Call Newspapers exists, which likely will be for the foreseeable future. More information won't help. The people who care see it. Even the people who don't care see it, but, they don't care, and seem to like it. Occasionally they will support buildings and other projects, but only if it serves another purpose, and building don't teach children...teachers teach children...their disdain and jealously of the teaching profession has cause a high level of brain drain from our classrooms, both from teachers getting paid up to $10,000 more a year at different schools, as well as parents moving their kids to school districts that have a chance at being something better than exceptionally mediocre. That said, a parent with enough time can make up the difference. It serves that kid, but not the community
Mike Stevens October 16, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I agree with you Karl, and hope that the Call newspapers do go away, especially with some bankrupty claims about them. You are right, Mehlville staff do what they can with what they have, but too many of the most talented can and do leave for other districts, where, as you state, they really can earn thousands more per year. My fear is this---with Mehville not being able to pay top dollar to teachers, that means that they cannot attract the most desirable candidates for teaching who instead go to higher paying districts. That means that Mehlville most likely has to hire those teachers who could not get jobs in districts like Kirkwood. I would hope that the community would want the best in the classroom, not the ones who other districts turned down. That makes me sound like I'm trashing the teachers, but I am really not. I just don't think that Mehlville can attract and, more importantly, retain the best out there.
PaulRevere March 09, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Mike: Buying into the conclusion that Teacher Pay is the problem is ludicrous. Mehlville has "funding system" problem. Their is no real competition within ALL of our public schools. Why? Because they all operate under the same umbrella. (union Contracts). Mehlville does not need a $225,000 per year superintendent. He has literally mortgaged Mehlville's future. "Free" Kindergarten and "free" auditoriums is an unfair representation to the community. When State & Federal grants dry up--it's curtains for Mehlville , unless massive Property tax increases our substantial new building comes to fruition. 20 year solar-Leases ignore solar panel replacements in 20 years. Ignores coming standard energy technology improvements. No, you and Karl should not be confused about Pay. Only , when union contracts are torn up and replaced with a system that pays the best teachers $20,000 more than they could get anywhere else. That is a structure that would zoom Mehlville to the best place for public education. Simply put--There are too many "chiefs" and not enough indians in our public schools.
Karl Frank Jr. April 17, 2013 at 01:59 PM
I promised to start releasing emails in relation to the information collusion between school board members at Mehlville and Call Newspapers when the time was right. Visit here for the first 5 emails of thousands... https://www.facebook.com/MCT4Mehlville


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