COMPASS nearing an end; next session set Monday

COMPASS session on safety, security in district draws more than 100 people

By BURKE WASSON

The Mehlville School District’s public-engagement program is nearing an end as a community-engagement session next week will recap and review concerns on programs and facilities identified at previous meetings.

Next week’s review session for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — is set from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 14, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

The COMPASS Facilitating Team also met this week to prioritize issues and ideas from concepts gathered at earlier sessions. That team of residents, employees, school-board members and students is responsible for honing all the concerns gathered from community-engagement sessions and presenting recommendations in June to the Board of Education.

Despite Superintendent Terry Noble’s desire to improve Mehlville’s finances through public engagement, Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler has emphasized that any recommendations will be from the district’s Facilitating Team — not Noble.

In a recent e-mail to a board member, Noble wrote that the school district’s financial situation “… is a crisis unless COMPASS passes …” in an election because the district’s operating-fund balance is projected to dip below the state-required 3-percent minimum by the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

But Fowler said all suggestions gathered through COMPASS to improve any facet of the district would be recommended by the Facilitating Team and ultimately decided by the Board of Education.

At last week’s community-engagement session devoted to safety and security, Fowler reiterated that the Facilitating Team would develop those recommendations and added that despite the troubling financial projections, COMPASS must “move forward” to benefit students.

“We are going to present a plan to the Board of Education that is going to take everything into consideration for the Mehlville School District,” Fowler said. “And that will be submitted to the board in June. That is a 100-percent thing that’s going to happen. And we’ve done it with giving information and getting feedback from all of you. At the next meeting, we’re going to start presenting those ideas to you and hear feedback from that.

“Let’s not let the events over the last few days interfere with the education of over 11,000 kids. In fact, let’s not let it interfere with one child. That one child could be your child or your grandchild. So hopefully, we move forward.”

Noble, who was released from the hospital last week after being treated for an intestinal problem, has been preparing several financial scenarios to present to the Facilitating Team for consideration, which he expects will result in the team proposing a “hybrid” of those options.

Fowler has said he is aware of some financial scenarios that will be presented to the Facilitating Team. Among those options are no tax increase; asking voters to restore the district’s 2006-2007 tax rate and essentially approve a tax-rate increase of 37 cents per $100 of assessed valuation; and asking voters to approve up to an 80-cent tax-rate increase, which Fowler said “won’t happen.”

But after reviewing new financial projections that show the district’s operating-fund balance at 0.02 percent by the 2009-2010 school year instead of a previously projected 5.75 percent, Noble said he had to revise the scenarios he intends to present to the Facilitating Team.

As for spending district funds on safety and security, more than 100 participants at a March 31 COMPASS session were asked to identify their concerns and key challenges to improve students’ safety. Of 19 tables of participants at the session, 14 identified bullying as a top safety and security challenge, two tables believed intruders are the top challenge and one table apiece listed location of bus stops, vandalism and student violence.

When asked how the district should allocate its funds toward safety and security, 10 of the 19 tables identified prevention programs.

As most of the 19 tables listed more than one way to spend money on safety and security, seven identified additional counselors, seven identified additional teachers, six identified social workers as the district has none, four identified security cameras and two identified additional hall monitors.

With COMPASS now in review mode, the district has scheduled two additional community-engagement sessions after the April 14 session.

On April 28, participants will be presented with an initial set of possible packages that could be recommended by the Facilitating Team. On June 2, the final recommended package whittled down by the Facilitating Team in May will be presented to the public.

Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m. at Bernard Middle School.

Given the pending recommendations to the Board of Education as well as the recently projected financial challenges, Facilitating Team co-chair Jim Schibig told participants at last week’s session to attend the final sessions and persuade others to also provide input.

“There are no such thing as problems,” he said. “There are only opportunities. And we’ve been presented with a tremendous opportunity. This is an opportunity. COMPASS now more than ever … we want and need to hear your voice. We cannot be successful in what we want to do without hearing your voice … Over the next month, we need more people here. The more voices that are here, the better direction we will have.”