COMPASS co-chair calls on ‘young parents’ to carry out Mehlville School District plans

Time for parents to ‘stand up and be counted,’ Fowler says

By BURKE WASSON

As the Facilitating Team for the Mehlville School District’s public-engagement program is preparing to present its final recommendations, a co-chair of that panel believes those plans can’t be carried out without an “uprising of young parents.”

Facilitating Team co-chair and former Board of Education member Dan Fowler last week urged parents as well as former “disenfranchised” district leaders to come together for the good of students.

The Facilitating Team is slated to present its recommendations gathered since April 2007 to the Board of Education Tuesday, June 24. Tentative plans were presented last week at the district’s final community-engagement session for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

At that session, Fowler and fellow co-chair Jim Schibig presented a Long-Range Master Plan and Guiding Principles created by those who participated in COMPASS community-engagement sessions.

The Facilitating Team — comprised of district residents, school-board members, employees and students — was charged with whittling those suggestions gathered since April 2007 into a workable long-range plan.

The long-range plan includes such programs and services as all-day kindergarten, early childhood expansion, English Language Learner teachers, counselors and elementary remedial reading teachers and boosting staff salaries so they would “become equal to the county average.”

Also proposed are technology improvements, safety and security enhancements and the replacement of buses.

Funding options being recommended to the Board of Education include two ballot measures for November, but the COMPASS proposal states, “Obviously, determining the specifics for funding is a decision of the Board of Education.”

One proposed ballot measure would transfer 31 cents from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund. The transfer would generate roughly $5.7 million annually. The district’s overall tax rate would not increase, but the transfer would extend the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years.

The second proposed ballot measure would be a 37-cent tax-rate increase to help fund the long-range plan that incorporates suggestions from those who participated in the community-engagement sessions. The proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase would restore the district’s tax rate to its 2006 level as Mehlville’s total tax rate per $100 of assessed valuation would jump to roughly $3.64 from $3.27. A 37-cent tax-rate in-crease for an owner of a $200,000 home would result in an additional cost of $140.60 per year or $11.71 per month.

As proposed, the 37-cent tax-rate increase would be the first of four phases of elections to fund the long-range plan. The district also would ask voters in November elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 to maintain the district’s operating levy by waiving the district’s estimated 8-cent tax-levy rollback in each of those years.

But given the current political climate and economy, Fowler has said it is unlikely the Board of Education would place the 37-cent tax-rate on the November ballot.

Fowler told those present at the final community-engagement session last week that while he appreciates the participation of district residents and employees in the COMPASS program, more is needed to make these proposals a reality — specifically from “young parents.”

“The only way this plan becomes reality is with an army of parents willing to stand up and take their schools back,” Fowler said. “Parents must stand up and be willing to work passionately for their children’s education. The question is simple: Do you want to live and send your kids to an average school district that struggles year to year barely making it? Or do you want a school district to send your kids to and a community to live in that has high-performing schools? Until there is an uprising of young parents with children in this school district, this plan or any other plan that moves the district forward is doomed for failure. The only time that Mehlville has made great strides forward is when parents say: ‘Enough is enough, and I demand better schools for my kids.’ That starts with attending school-board meetings and demanding action.

“Now, I do not want to imply that there is something wrong with our school board. In fact, I think our Board of Education is made up of outstanding individuals. But they cannot do it alone. They need your help. I would ask all of you here tonight to stand up and be counted. Attend your school-board meetings and demand better schools. Eleven-thousand kids are depending on you, me and this community to provide them with a quality education.”

He also called for residents who once were active in the district to “come home” and assist Mehlville in moving forward.

“If you are someone that has been a leader or active in the past and feels disenfranchised, I would ask you and invite you to come home,” Fowler said. “It’s time to come home. It’s time to put personal differences aside for the sake of 11,000 kids. They deserve better than what we’re giving them. I plead with you to come home. This is not about me, the board or anyone else.

“This is about our children and the great community we live in. I’m proud of my service to the Mehlville School District and the many accomplishments. But I, too, have had my share of disappointments, made mistakes and failed at times. But I hope we can rise above our own personal issues and do what’s right for kids.

“If we fail to rally around our school district, we will fail our kids and our community will suffer. A lack of proper funding will affect our property values, which will lead to deteriorated neighborhoods, higher crime and isolation from our neighbors.

“Every day, hundreds of people are transferred in and out of St. Louis with their jobs. And one of the first things they ask their co-workers is about where the good school districts are. Will their co-workers tell them about Mehlville if it’s known they have problems in their school district? I think the answer is an obvious no. If Mehlville has a reputation for being a high-performing school district, the answer is yes.”

Additionally, Schibig thanked those who have participated in COMPASS sessions since 2007 for helping rather than harming the district.

“Having you people here as our sounding board and us listening to you has meant a whole bunch to me personally,” Schibig said. “And I know it’s meant a lot to our Facilitating Team and Board of Education. I truly appreciate you being part of the solution and not a part of the problem. We have listened to you, we have taken your advice and we will carry this forward.”

At the same time, Fowler cautioned that without a concerted effort from parents, any such plan will “fail.”

“Can we pass a tax levy this November? Can we pass two tax levies this November?” Fowler said. “The answer depends on whether parents mobilize. Yes if parents and community leaders come together, lead by example and demand better. It’s time to come home.”