COMPASS II recommendations to be presented to school board

Fowler wants Mehlville to be ‘a destination school district’

By MIKE ANTHONY

Recommendations to make Mehlville a high-performing school district are scheduled to be presented today — June 24 — to the Board of Education by the Facilitating Team of the district’s community-engagement process.

The recommendations, crafted during six community-engagement sessions that drew more than 1,200 participants, will be presented to the Board of Education at 7 p.m. in the Mehlville Senior High School cafeteria, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.

At the final community engagement session last month for COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — nearly 400 participants overwhelmingly recommended the Board of Education pursue a 94-cent tax-rate increase that would fund recommendations totaling more than $107 million.

That’s the plan that will be presented to the school board tonight, according to Facilitating Team Co-Chair Dan Fowler.

Jim Schibig, a former district principal, also serves as co-chair.

“… We’re obviously going to present the plan to the Board of Education in an effort to give the board some options about moving the district forward to becoming a high-performing school district. This would be a giant step forward to making the Mehlville School District what I’m going to refer to that night as a destination school district,” Fowler told the Call.

“In 1963, my parents were getting ready to make their move into their dream home and my parents had nothing more than a high school education,” he said. “But they both knew in order for their kids to succeed that they had to have a good education. My dad went to a principal in Webster Groves, a principal at Goodall Elementary, and asked him: If you were to build a new home, what school district would you raise your kids in? And without any hesitation, he said: the Lindbergh School District.

“And so my parents built their dream home in Crestwood within the boundaries of the Lindbergh School District. When I graduated in 1971, I graduated with some of the top scientists, doctors, engineers, musicians, attorneys and artists that lead this country to this day. It was a destination school district … That’s what we’re going to propose at this meeting Thursday night is to put us on the track to becoming a school district that is high performing and is a destination school district for people to want to come and live here and raise their families,” Fowler said.

The plan that will be presented tonight is the result of more than three years of work, he said, noting that community-engagement sessions for the first phase of COMPASS were conducted in 2007 and 2008.

The first COMPASS Facilitating Team used the community’s input to develop a four-phase long-range plan with guiding principles designed to make Mehlville a top-performing school district. Each phase contained recommendations for improving various areas of the district, such as curriculum, staffing and safety.

In June 2008, the Facilitating Team presented its plan to the Board of Education and recommended sending two proposals to voters: a transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund and a 37-cent tax-rate increase.

The school board voted to put the transfer proposal on the ballot, and more than 62 percent of voters approved the measure — Proposition T — in November 2008.

Prop T is generating roughly $5.6 million a year for the operating fund to stabilize the district’s finances.

The 37-cent tax-rate increase would have restored the district’s levy to the 2006 amount of $3.64 per $100 of assessed valuation, funded the first phase of COMPASS recommendations and helped fund the remaining three phases.

But board members rejected the proposal after a survey found that 59 percent of 400 respondents would oppose it.

The school board launched COMPASS II nearly a year ago and gave its Facilitating Team a new charge: Determine how to implement the first COMPASS plan while keeping in mind the resources available to the district.

The proposal that will be presented to the school board tonight 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.

As with the first COMPASS plan, Fowler said he believes results of a telephone survey will be critical for the Board of Education in determining how to proceed with the recommendations that will be presented tonight.

“The survey is critical on the direction we take,” he said. “The survey must show that we have a legitimate chance of passing a tax levy or I will not recommend doing so to the Board of Education, both publicly and privately, because there is no reason to put this community, this Board of Education, parents, employees, teachers, everyone through all the drama and the emotions not to mention the money, resources, time and talent for something that you know you most likely have no chance of passing.”

The ultimate goal of COMPASS II is to make the Mehlville School District and the community stronger, Fowler said.

“It’s not about us. It’s not about the Board of Education. It’s not about administrators,” he said. “It’s about making our school district and our community stronger. And in my opinion, it’s not even about property values. This is about being a destination school district for kids to come and then go on and do great things …”