Deputy superintendent to give Mehlville’s first state-of-the-district address

First community-engagement session set April 16 at Bernard Middle School

By BURKE WASSON

As the Mehlville School District begins its first community-engagement session to determine residents’ desires for the future, people will have a chance April 16 to hear about the district’s present-day condition.

Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost will issue the school district’s first state-of-the-district address at 7 p.m. Monday, April 16, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

That evening also will mark the first of 11 community-engagement sessions to gather public input about the district’s future direction. Each community-engagement session will run from 7 to 9 p.m. The sessions will continue until April 14, 2008.

The Facilitating Team for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — was scheduled to hear the first version of Knost’s address Monday night — after the Call went to press.

As part of the public-engagement process, the Facilitating Team will meet 15 times until April 28, 2008.

After each of the community-engagement sessions has been completed, the Facilitating Team plans to present a summary of the community’s recommendations from those sessions to the Board of Education in May 2008.

The school board hired UNICOM•ARC in November to consult and assist with the public-engagement program.

The Facilitating Team, charged with seeking and refining residents’ concerns into an executive summary, includes six residents, three Board of Education members, two teachers and two students. The two students were appointed to the Facilitating Team last week.

Mehlville Senior High School junior Justin Carter and Oakville Senior High School junior Jessica Maly have joined district residents Keith Benack, Marcella Foerstel, Paul Goldak, Sandy Jacobs, Desi Kirchhofer and Shauna Reed to serve on the Facilitating Team with teachers Cathy Mayrose and Ellen Woulfe and school-board members Cindy Christopher, Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello. The six residents were selected from 20 to 25 people who applied to serve on the panel.

The Facilitating Team is led by co-chairmen Dan Fowler, a former school-board member, and Jim Schibig, a former Beasley Elementary School principal.

The Facilitating Team’s summary of recommendations will focus around various study topics. Topics already planned to be included for community discussion are academic achievement/student performance, facilities, staffing, technology, finances/resources, communications, safety/security and demographics/enrollment.

While Ocello realizes that the outcome of the community-engagement process is wide open, he questioned at last week’s Facilitating Team meeting whether the public sees a true community outcome from COMPASS or a proposed tax-rate increase.

“Right at this point, this is not being done for a tax increase,” Ocello said. “That’s what I’m saying. That’s a question that I think is probably more critical than any others. But until you get past that, it all appears to be propaganda.”

Fowler responded that he does not believe the typical school-district resident believes COMPASS will result in a tax-increase request.

“I truly do not believe that the average person believes that this process has an end result yet, I don’t think,” Fowler said. “I understand what you’re saying. I can understand that. But we don’t know what all the answers are until we get there.”

Diehl suggested that a way to clear any misconceptions about the district’s finances would be to offer financial projections at the community-engagement sessions.

“In the discussion on finance, perhaps have a projection of if we keep the status quo, what will happen two, three, five years down the road looking at enrollment and looking at the dollars,” Diehl said.

As for the here and now, Facilitating Team members discussed various elements of the state-of-the-district address that they would like to see Knost include.

Facilitating Team member Keith Benack said he would like to see Knost mention a short history of the school district to remind residents that the district itself was formed by residents at their request and not forced on them.

“I think the key point here with the history is the district was formed out of a movement from the community,” Benack said. “This was not something that was forced.”

Ocello also said he would like to see Knost explain in the address how the district compares with other school districts in various areas, including tax rates and per-pupil expenditure.

Christopher and Fowler added they would like to see comparisons of district performance not only with other districts, but also compared to as far back as 10 years ago.

Goldak said that the district’s per-pupil expenditure, which Christopher said has stayed at roughly the same level the past several years, could be shown as a sign that the school board is managing tax dollars well.

“You can turn that expenditure per pupil into a positive thing by saying what good stewards you are with the tax dollars that you use,” Goldak said.

“I would hope people would think that,” Christopher said.

“It (the per-pupil expenditure) could go up,” Goldak said. “But some might say it should go up. But look what we’re getting. And what are we getting for that dollar? It could be made into a positive example.”

Besides the state-of-the-district address, the first community-engagement session is aimed to attract a large number of residents and will be schematically designed around several group work sessions with each group based on a particular study topic. Some of those group work sessions will also be formed around various study-topic committees that the Facilitating Team is working to fill.

Other than welcoming criticism and additional study topics within the work sessions, the Facilitating Team is planning to have an “open mic” forum at the April 16 meeting so those present can hear each group’s concerns.