Cerven: Prop Y ballot language ‘not all of the truth’

The treasurer of the ‘Vote No On Y’ committee, David Cerven, called 40 South News Thursday to say the ballot language for Proposition Y is, according to him, “not all of the truth.” However MRH board president Nelson Mitten, when asked, said the language is correct and legal.

The ballot states the adjusted operating levy of the District per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation is estimated to be $4.7869 for residential real property.

“The big issue is while that is accurate it’s not all of the truth,” Cerven said. “There’s an additional $1.35 tax levy (for debt service) that is on top of that, that puts us in those highest numbers,” he said.

“It’s had lots of people contacting me about that discrepancy,” he said. “Why are the numbers that the county reports different than the numbers the school district is reporting?

“I’d like not to go back and forth responding to other things that they said because I don’t think we need to go into tit-tat about stuff. We just need to be concerned about these rates being so high,” he said.

Cerven’s question about the ballot was forwarded to MRH board president, Nelson Mitten, who said ballot language is specified by state law.

“The Prop. Y ballot language was reviewed and approved by legal counsel for the District and by the St. Louis County Board of Elections before being placed on the ballot. In response to the inquiry we again contacted the Board of Elections which again confirmed that it is correct,” Mitten said in his email.

Mitten also said Cerven’s question “shows his continued lack of understanding about school finance, and more specifically how operating levy rates and bond levy rates are set on an annual basis. To do it in the manner suggested by Mr. Cerven would be inaccurate and misleading, and inconsistent with state law.” 

See also, on the MRH Prop Y:

22 thoughts on “Cerven: Prop Y ballot language ‘not all of the truth’

  1. Hello folks,

    First of all, I’m not in any way a spokesperson for the district, and everything I’m saying below is just my own opinion.

    I don’t want to get into any arguments about how the tax rate for MRH compares to others regions in the district. This issue is difficult to summarize quickly, and where facts are not easily compared on an apples to apples basis, it’s easy to resort to ad hominem attacks out of frustration that we’re not hearing each other.

    I do want look closer at the calculation of $18.9K spending per student that Mr. Cerven’s Vote No on Y Committee included on postcards sent to households throughout our district, though, as the mailings did not cite any sources and Mr. Cerven is not backing up his figures with any disclosure of his methodology. I think it would be easy to get confused about this, and I want to be sure that we have the kind of dialogue a community should have before making a decision like this.

    To be clear, the statement on the postcard that I take issue with reads as follows:

    “MRH will have the second highest spending per student in Mid-County ($18,934 per student.)”

    The numbers of students MRH reports in their literature are different for different purposes: when calculating the expenditures per student, they use enrollment and expenditures *excluding the preschool* to be consistent with the DOE reporting methodology and to allow comparisons against other schools that may only have K-12. This is completely appropriate for that purpose.

    However, I believe (and please, someone correct me if I’m wrong) the operating levy is meant to raise funds for operating expenditures across all students, not just those in K-12, so in other places in their communications, they’ve shared historical enrollment and revenue figures for the whole district *including preschool*. Again, this is completely appropriate, even if different from the other figures cited.

    I assume that Mr. Cerven’s group does not deny that the spending (on a K-12 basis) in 2015 is exactly as described in the DOE report (ignoring the preschoolers) as $15.6M per year (current expenditures) which, when spread across an average daily attendance of about 1,100 (K-12) students, works out to $14.3K per student, exactly as stated by MRH (you can check yourself – just divide the two numbers). Again, someone correct me if I am wrong, but I would expect the spending per student borne by the district to be lower than that if preschoolers are factored in, since some of their costs are offset by tuition.

    In order to calculate the new spending of $18.9K per student, Mr. Cerven is assuming that spending will increase by $4.6K per student after 2015 ($18.9k-$14.3k). Even assuming that this additional spending is spread over the same enrollment base as we had in 2015 (in reality it should be spread over more students than this, since enrollment has grown and the preschool will also benefit from Prop Y) this $4.6K per student increase translates to $5.1M ($4.6K x 1,100) additional annual spending when compared to 2015 annual spending. If we allow for enrollment growth, that number would be even higher.

    From what I can tell, the operating levy will raise $1.1M revenue annually with $340,000 additional for capital improvements, nowhere near the $5.1M that would be implied by the $18.9K shown on the postcard.

    It is possible that, in addition to the $1.1M the group is also factoring in funds already raised and approved by the community for Prop K, which passed last April. But that was a bond issue, which, similar to a house purchase, should not be treated as an annual expenditure. If that spending is to be factored in on an annual basis, it should be amortized over several years, like a mortgage payment would be. In order to read this as an additional $4M of expenditures ($5M – 1.1M), that amortization period would be less than two years. I don’t know what the actual amortization period is, but I am pretty sure it’s more than two years.

    Additionally, it would be misleading to spread that $4M over enrollment that does not include the preschool, since it is for construction of a new preschool.

    So, Mr. Cerven, it’s possible that I made a math error and that I’m really not thinking about this the right way, but it seems to me like your math doesn’t work. Would you be willing to share your work so we can decide whether what you’re telling our community is true or not?

    Thank you,

    Aany Tazmin
    Citizen, Mom, Neighbor

    • I meant to say: “how the tax rate for MRH compares to others districts in the region.”

    • This is a very simple financial matter.
      MRH current budget lists nearly $28 million dollars of total revenue.
      Their current advertised enrollment for pre-k – 12 is 1399 students.
      That comes out to $20,014 per student per year! WOW!
      Take away all the legaleze, what subset of the numbers the school board is legally required to report, and “oh that portion of our expenditures don’t count because that is going to pay off the previous bond issues”, etc.
      These numbers tell the real story.
      The question for the voters is – “Should MRH have more of your money?”

      • So, when you get a loan for a house or car, you list the loan amount as income for the IRS? Simple enough for ya? Vote yes.

  2. I don’t think the pro-Y people are commenting on the value of the law. Regardless of whether they agree with it or not, they have to follow it. It’s the legal and ethical thing to do. To suggest that they are doing otherwise makes me think the person making the claim is either paranoid/delusional or obfuscating the truth. Whether we are for or against Prop Y, most MRH neighbors are rational and open minded. Pass or fail I believe most people will seek the truth and ignore much of this vitriol. It’s who we are as a community. We are better than the handful of people who seek to make this ugly.

  3. So, again, one more time–if we pass the tax increase for $.55, do we still have to pay the $1.35 debt service or does that go away? The wording is legal mumbo-jumbo designed to be deceptive by lawyers who think the public can be more easily manipulated if they aren’t told the whole story. If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s a duck! The $.55 is going to be a huge tax increase and I say ‘enough is enough’!

  4. “To do it in the manner suggested by Mr. Cerven would be inaccurate and misleading, and inconsistent with state law.”

    Yep. Pretty much sums up Mr Cerven, his ethics and morals. The situation he is trying to create is an embarrassment to our community and an insult to our residents.

    People who live their lives dishonestly assume the rest of the world has the same lack of integrity.

    I would ask that my fellow MRH residents and VOTERS turn your backs on him, his lies and the distraction he is trying to create. With only a few days before the election let’s focus on sharing the truth with our neighbors and let Mr Cerven spend his time creating his next conspiracy theory. Rise above his tactics and KEEP MRH STRONG!

    • An argument is the use of facts and logic to advance one’s position. What TP has done is just a personal attack on Mr. Cerven; maybe he or she should try again.

    • An argument is the use of facts and logic to advance one’s position. TP’s post is nothing but a personal attack on Mr. Cerven; I am surprised the moderator posted it. Maybe the post should be deleted, and TP can try again.
      It seems to me that Mr. Mitten was splitting hairs on the tax rate, while Mr. Cerven was pointing out what taxpayers are actually paying.

    • I’m pro Prop Y, but personal attacks aimed at the opposition only make us look bad. TP, it’s no secret who you are either.

    • I’m pretty sick of the ad hominen attacks by the vote-yes group. I will be voting No.
      Enough is enough.

      • I humbly ask anyone considering a no vote to please reconsider and vote Yes. Please don’t allow just a few hasty words written in the midst of emotions flying high to turn you off. Folks in favor of Prop Y are concerned about our public school being able to continue its climb towards success. You should see the dedication of all teachers and staff in MRH schools and how extremely hard they work. To know that there are still human beings out there who selflessly dedicate themselves to helping others in this way would lift anyone’s’ spirits in the best way possible. Please let’s stand together to allow their good work to continue and vote Yes on Prop Y. Once this is passed, we can and should look more closely into future financial planning for the district. But right now, let’s help MRH continue to make forward progress; going backwards right now would be so harmful, especially considering how much progress we’ve recently made. Thank you & PEACE 🙂

  5. Yeah, the law is never wrong, so if it is in accordance with the law, everything is kosher. I don’t agree with David about funding, but it doesn’t mean that a law isnt antiquated or confusing. It is really annoying that the school board is attacking David as opposed to saying, “yes, it is very high, but that is what it takes to run a school here. “