Board to consider contract for two Prop R ’08 projects

Committee proposed to study controversial speakers policy

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Lindbergh Board of Education was scheduled earlier this week to consider awarding a $15.5 million contract for the first two projects being constructed as part of the district’s Proposition R 2008 bond issue.

The contract for construction of the district’s new Early Childhood Education, or ECE, building and the new Concord Elementary School was set to be considered by the Board of Education Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

During a special meeting Saturday morning, Executive Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer recommended the board consider awarding the $15,503,500 contract for the two projects to Diestelkamp Construction Co., the lowest bidder.

Concord School, which currently houses the district’s ECE program, is being converted into an elementary school while the new ECE building will be constructed next to the district’s Administration Building at 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

District voters approved Proposition R 2008, a $31 million bond issue, in November 2008. The board had placed Proposition R 2008 on the ballot with the goal of providing a long-term solution to space concerns at Sperreng Middle School.

More than 1,300 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are jammed into the middle school that was designed to accommodate 800 pupils when it opened in 1970.

While Sperreng will remain a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, Prop R funds will be used to convert Truman Elementary School to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school. Besides the ECE and Concord Elementary projects, Prop R will fund additions at Crestwood and Long elementary schools.

In a memo to Superintendent Jim Simpson, Guyer noted that 13 general contractors had submitted bids and post-bid interviews were conducted with the three low bidders. Besides Diestelkamp Construction, the other low bidders were S.M. Wilson & Co. at $16,190,548 and Orf Construction Inc. at 16,299,300.

In his memo, Guyer noted that Diestelkamp’s proposal was within the estimated budget established for the two projects.

In a separate issue Saturday, board members agreed to discuss at Tuesday’s meeting a recommendation to establish a committee to review two proposed policies — one that would establish guidelines for dealing with controversial speakers and a second for teaching about controversial issues.

Both proposed policies were drafted as a result of the superintendent’s decision not to show President Barack Obama’s live nationwide education speech to district students in early September. After the board conducted the first reading of the proposed policies Nov. 10, the proposals were placed on the district’s Web site to obtain comments from district staff and the public.

“Based upon that first reading, the board requested that we put (those proposals) on our Web site to get some feedback … We did have 25 responses from that posting …,” Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Rick Francis said, noting 55 percent of the responses were from district staff and 45 percent of the responses were from parents and community members.

Noting he had provided a summary of the comments for board members, Francis said, “What I found … was a wide range of comments, sprinkled in with a few concrete suggestions, but most of those were just ‘this is my opinion.’ The most common opinion was ‘why have a policy at all? Let the individual teachers and building administrators handle it like they have in the past.’ So typically we have a first reading like we did in November and then I bring it back the next month for second reading and approval. You will notice for next Tuesday night, the policies are not on there for second reading and approval …”

Based on the comments submitted, Francis instead recommended postponing the second reading — originally scheduled for Tuesday night — and establishing a committee comprised of six teachers, three administrators and six parents/community members to review the proposed policies.

Francis suggested the committee’s recommendation to the administration would be no policy, a policy with reference to administrative procedure, revising the proposed policy language or other proposals.

Board member Mark Rudoff said he agreed with the proposal to form a committee, but believed a policy needs to be established.

“… I will say the posting of the policy on the Web site, in my opinion, elicited the desired result, which is let’s get some feedback and see what’s going on,” he said. “I will tell you my preference is that having no policy invites similar situations of what we were experiencing before, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the president or anybody else that’s going to come in and ad-dress the students or speak or have access to them.

“Having no policy I think is equally disruptive as to having one. So I think part of the challenge to the committee is finding the least intrusive policy … That’s just me speaking and I don’t know how the rest of the board feels, but I think that if we have no policy we’re inviting a recurrence of what happened earlier …,” Rudoff added.

Other board members agreed.

Vice President Vic Lenz said, “I totally agree with Mark. I think we need a policy. I don’t want to be in a situation again where we’re doing battle over something in the newspaper for weeks. It just doesn’t help anything or anybody. Yet any policy we have should allow teachers to bring people into the classroom and allow instruction to go on. That’s how kids learn …”

President Ken Fey said, “… I, too, believe there should be a policy, but I do believe we should now step back, take a little time and I want not only administration, but I want the staff — and when I say the staff, I mean the teaching staff — to get into this and to look at it. And I want to hear more from them. I want to know their concerns and this committee idea I think is wonderful because they can bring their ideas, their concerns, their issues to light in a committee forum.

“And then instead of us just all of a sudden setting a policy and then folks coming afterward and saying: ‘We didn’t have any input into that policy’ — so yes, I think it’s time to step back, form a committee and for sure get the teachers’ input into that.”

Rudoff later added, “… Having no policy is very distracting. It unnecessarily vilifies the superintendent and administration because no matter what happens, you’re going to alienate people one way or the other.

“Establishing a policy with broad-based participation allows us to chart the course and proactively say when something like this happens, this is what we’re going to do. … And the answer to any questions or concerns is this is the board policy …,” he said.