Budget, facility issues to be topics at Mehlville board retreat

Annual retreat slated to take place Saturday.

By EVAN YOUNG

Budget priorities and facilities needs are among the topics members of the Mehlville Board of Education want on the agenda for their retreat this weekend.

The retreat is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, in the library of Forder Elementary School, 623 W. Ripa Ave.

Board members and the superintendent typically use the annual retreat to discuss goals for the upcoming school year.

After the board voted recently to table a proposed raise for classified staff, some members suggested one of the retreat discussions pertain to how the district’s money should be spent.

The board’s newest members — Secretary Elaine Powers and board members Rich Franz, Mark Stoner and Ron Fedorchak — voted to postpone a decision on granting a 1-percent pay increase to hourly classified personnel.

District officials recommended the raise out of fairness to those employees as certified teachers are expected to receive a similar increase per their memorandum of understanding with the board.

“We need to do a better job of making sure the folks who sit in those seats understand what our budget priorities are, certainly if a pay increase for our classified employees is part of our budget priorities,” Franz said toward the end of the July 28 school board meeting, in reference to the public.

“And I certainly think it should be at some point, but if it is, we need to make sure we’re articulating and publicizing to these folks who are providing the money in the first place what the priorities are and how we intend to approach those things.”

Powers suggested the board discuss how to increase community involvement with the district.

“Toward that end, I think some things that would help me understand that would be a list, more information about what our current district-level committees are and who is on those,” Powers said. “I’m interested in whether those committees are required by statute … What are we required to have versus what are we choosing to have? …”

She added, “I’m interested in information about partnerships that we have that are bringing others into our schools to provide services, things like BJC Behavioral Health, and I know there are others. I would just like a greater understanding of what those are and what’s the impact. Are they saving us dollars? Are they improving outcomes?

“And I know we may not have a scientific measure of that, but just some feel for what’s the value that we are getting through those partnerships.”

Powers also asked for a discussion on the district’s capital needs, including timelines to address them.

“… (A)nd if there aren’t any then maybe we need to start thinking about timelines and talking about what’s most important to do now or to do sooner rather than later … And when I say facility and capital I’m including technology, I’m including all of that in my definition.”

Board member Tom Diehl said the board should revisit the district’s long-range facilities plan and focus on Margaret Buerkle Middle School.

A facilities study in 2007 showed Buerkle, located on Buckley Road, was the most deficient school in the district in such areas as educational adequacy and educational environment. Buerkle would have been rebuilt north of the Mehlville High School campus as part of Proposition C, an 88-cent tax-rate increase proposal voters rejected last November.

However, Diehl noted that during recent interviews of candidates for a vacant board seat, “it was recommended more than once that we look at a capital project that we could pay off in five years and have a sunset provision. So, if (Chief Financial Officer) Noel (Knobloch) could come up with an estimate as to what it would cost for a five-year payback for a new middle school, since that was the No. 1 priority in the facility plan because of the inadequacies of the current Buerkle Middle School, I’d appreciate knowing how much it would take to do that in a five-year period.”

Board Vice President Larry Felton said the “first, last and the middle” topic of discussion should be student achievement.

“I think as a board we need to understand what we think the metrics are,” he said. “What tells us that we’re doing it right? Is it average daily attendance? Is it graduation rates? Is it ACT numbers? Is it (adequate yearly progress)? …”

Felton also suggested the board talk about possible process improvements, learn more about different teaching methods and discuss using technology to better communicate with the public.