With people streaming down its steps and standing outside on the sidewalk, the Mehlville School District moved Tuesday’s open board meeting from its administrative building to the library to accommodate the overflowing crowd.
It was the first time, at least in recent history, that a district board meeting was relocated because of a crowd, said Mehlville School District Superintendent Eric Knost.
More than 200 people attended the meeting. They ranged from present-day and retired teachers, parents with their children and former employees. Overwhelmingly, they were taxpayers, as indicated by a show of hands when queried by school board member Tom Diehl at the start of the meeting.
Many came to support the tax roll-up approved at the — and to take aim at school board member Rich Franz, who opposed the tax levy along with Elaine Powers and Mark Stoner.
Prompting residents’ ire was a comment made by Franz at last month’s meeting during which the tax rate roll-up was passed by the school board. Franz’s comment, which was published in Patch, reads in part: “. This is about those folks sitting in those seats not trusting us as a board.”
The part about it not being about the kids rankled most in the audience.
More than 25 people spoke during the meeting’s open comments period, which lasted approximately an hour. Some speakers even quoted the district’s policies.
One speaker was Mike Baker, an 1986 Oakville High School graduate and parent of two children at Oakville Middle School, who implored the board to work together with district.
“You are ethically bound to remember that the first and greatest concern must be the educational welfare of all students attending the (Mehlville) public schools,” Baker said.
Others weren’t quite as diplomatic, such as Jeff Clobes, a parent, who accused Franz of being a bully.
“The district, in my opinion promotes an anti-bullying policy, and you, Mr. Franz are bullying this board,” he said.
Clobes also took issue with newly-elected school board member, Elaine Powers.
“Ms. Powers, I am very disappointed that you chose to side with Mr. Stoner and Mr. Franz on voting ‘No’ for the tax roll-up. I voted for you because I expected you to be my voice. That did not represent my voice.
"I fight for every one of these teachers because they fight for my kids. Threaten to take dental and vision insurance from these people (i.e. teachers)? What’s next on your agenda, sir: Ask them to bring toilet tissue to work? It is about the children. It’s not about you,” he said.
Franz listened intently to the barbs, taking notes and occasionally asking for the spelling of a speaker’s name. He maintained a slight smile.
“You’ll notice on the speaker’s list tonight, the majority of the people were either teachers, retired teachers, retired administrators, retired classified employees or people who currently have small children in the district and are being influenced by what their children bring home from school in terms of the message they are getting,” Franz said.
“Tonight was an opportunity for these folks to take a shot at me, and I don’t mind them doing that. You know, we live in a democracy. Everybody has an opportunity to share their feelings.
"There is one basic misconception, though. And I want to apologize to them, to the folks that are here tonight, for being told by someone that I said that ‘being on the school board is not about the kids,’ because I never said that.
“I said that support of Proposition C and the passage of Proposition C is not about the children. It was about giving pay raises to the teachers, and it was about creating construction jobs for the trade unions,” he said.
The marathon meeting lasted from 7:30 until 11:30 p.m.
Check back Friday and next week for more coverage on Wednesday's board meeting.