COMPASS II participants urge board to pursue 94-cent tax hike

Long-range plan supported by Mehlville NEA members.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Nearly 400 participants at a community-engagement session last week overwhelmingly recommended the Board of Education pursue a 94-cent tax-rate increase designed to make Mehlville a high-performing school district.

Ninety-four percent of the 387 participants at the sixth and final session community-engagement for COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — urged the Board of Education to pursue the 94-cent tax-rate increase that would fund recommendations totaling more than $107 million.

The plan includes most of the recommendations from the first chapter of COMPASS, including full-day kindergarten and moving staff salaries to the county median. Besides those recommendations, the Facilitating Team’s proposal also includes suggestions gathered at the COMPASS II sessions, such as funding for Parents as Teachers.

In addition, the updated COMPASS plan outlines renovations at Bierbaum and Trautwein elementary schools, significant improvements at Buerkle, Oakville and Washington middle schools and the addition of arts and technology centers to Oakville and Mehlville Senior high schools.

The proposed improvements to the middle schools are designed to give them parity with Bernard Middle School, which was constructed in 2003 as part of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program.

Each recommendation is listed as either an operating or capital expense. To fund the roughly $9.37 million in operating proposals, the district would have to increase its tax rate by an estimated 54 cents, including 20 cents to move staff salaries to the county median.

To fund all of the $98 million in capital recommendations, the district would need to increase its tax rate by 40 cents. That breaks down to a two-cent increase for every $5 million in capital improvements.

Therefore, to fund the entire proposal of $107,377,800, the district would need to ask voters to increase its four tax rates — residential, commercial, personal property and agricultural — by 94 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

A nearly unanimous Facilitating Team agreed May 17 the $107 million in recommendations should be presented to participants at the May 24 community-engagement session.

During that session, Facilitating Team Co-Chair Dan Fowler said, “… Our charge from the very beginning from the Board of Education was to make Mehlville School District a high-performing school district. Tonight you’re going to see a plan presented to you that puts Mehlville well on the road to doing that. It is a massive plan.”

But Fowler noted the recommendations had been scaled back from what was presented to COMPASS participants on May 3 and May 8. Recommendations presented at those sessions totaled more than $94 million and would have required a tax-rate increase of $1.23 to fund them.

But operating recommendations were scaled back to $9.37 million from roughly $15.7 million and capital recommendations were increased to roughly $98 million from $78.4 million. As a result, the amount of a tax-rate increase needed to fund the revised recommendations decreased to 94 cents from $1.23.

Regarding the revised proposal, Fowler said, “It will rebuild many of our aging and deteriorating schools. It will put hundreds of construction workers to work for the next two or three years and give our kids the education that they deserve. It will also help us retain some of our best-qualified and experienced teachers in this school district …”

After Superintendent Terry Noble presented specifics of the revised recommendations, participants, grouped by tables ac-cording to their child’s school, were asked: “Do we, as COMPASS II participants, affirm that the Board of Education should place a referendum on the November 2010 ballot to begin implementing the COMPASS II proposal, as appropriate?”

While 94 percent of participants urged the Board of Education to pursue the 94-cent tax-rate increase to fund the recommendations, Fowler told the Call the actual percentage was nearly 100 because one table voted both “yes” and “no.”

“It was actually 100 percent — except for one person at a table. So that’s what they did. They brought me over and specifically showed me that one person voted ‘no’ at that one table,” he said. “They had it written out that they were actually for it, but they voted ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on the piece of paper that they filled out.”

Noble told participants May 24 that he was pleased with the turnout at the community-engagement session and their support for the revised COMPASS II recommendations.

Noting that many participants discussed how the approval of a 94-cent-tax-rate increase would be an investment in the community, the school district and children, he said, “… Just about everybody had something to say about this is an opportunity to invest, to invest in our most treasured possession. That’s our kids. And what an opportunity. It’s not about sacrifice as much as it is investment and that is exactly what I’m hearing all of you say tonight.

“Education is a great equalizer … I’m one of nine siblings raised by parents who grew up in the Great Depression,” Noble continued. “Neither of my parents had an eighth-grade education, but each one of their children got a good education, made it through college and made a success of their life because our parents did sacrifice and invest in our future.

“And we learned two things: One, we learned what it means to have a strong work ethic and how far that will get you in life, and No. 2, we learned to devote our lives to try and make the world a better place. And we do that by investing in others and who is better to invest in than our kids? That is what this is all about …” the superintendent said.

Of last week’s community-engagement session, Noble told the Call, “I thought it was our best ever. We had 387 people there. A good majority were parents and community members. I felt like there was some energy and enthusiasm and support for the school district and the plan. What was really refreshing and rewarding to see was how committed and how united that group of people was toward supporting the education of students in the Mehlville School District.”

Fowler told the Call he was pleased with the support shown by participants for the COMPASS II recommendations.

“We were thrilled with the outcome of Monday night’s meeting,” he said. “It shows a great deal of support with our parents and our staff and that is critical to be successful in any ballot measure.”

At the May 27 Board of Education meeting, Mehlville National Education Association President Karen Torretta announced NEA members “wholeheartedly support” the COMPASS II recommendations.

During general membership meetings the previous day, Torretta said NEA members considered the same question that participants were asked at the May 24 community-engagement session about whether the Board of Education should pursue a November election to begin implementing the COMPASS II proposal.

“The answer to this question was a re-sounding ‘yes.’ Over 92 percent of our members supported the COMPASS recommendation to place a referendum on the ballot,” she told board members. “Stated another way, our members wholeheartedly support the COMPASS plan.”

Fowler told the Call, “Regarding the teachers’ endorsement, it is crucial to get the unqualified support of teachers and staff in any school district race.

“Without their support, success would be impossible,” Fowler added. “With their support, we do have a good chance of passing something in November. We just don’t know what it is yet.”

The Facilitating Team co-chair reiterated his belief that a telephone survey will be “critical” in helping the board decide what type of ballot measure to place before voters.

“A very critical decision will have to be made sometime in late July as to what the size of the measure is. The survey results will be vital in determining the actual size of a ballot measure,” Fowler said. “… I certainly hope that this Board of Education does not place something on the ballot that does not have a legitimate chance of passing because I certainly won’t be a part of it.

“To put a measure on a ballot that has no chance of passing would in fact be very damaging to the school district — all the time, energy and effort going into a measure that has no chance of succeeding would be very damaging to the school district and to the community.

“And it would be a terrible mistake to do something like that.”