South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Long Range Planning Committee looks at setting lofty goals for school district

The Mehlville School District is dreaming of ways “to justify a tax increase,” ac-cording to a member of the district’s Long Range Planning Committee.

The Long Range Planning Committee last week heard a series of “action plans” from two subcommittees, or “action teams,” representing academic achievement and technology. Plans ranged from more teachers to more buses and upgraded software to a larger technical support staff, including a district Web master. The list is long, but some committee members didn’t think some ideas were big enough.

“Isn’t the point of this dreaming and what do we want to do to justify a tax increase?” committee member Pennie Ranzetta asked.

“This is kind of like the big picture of what we want to do.

“As we’re dealing with classes at the high school being 30-plus kids, why not in-crease the number of teachers to increase the caring and nurturing of my child, or if I have principals who are serving 500 children, why not increase the number of administrators?” Ranzetta continued, re-ferring to a proposal to hire part-time college students to walk the halls with elementary pupils.

The suggestion was made as a way to make schools more caring and nurturing.

“First of all our budget won’t allow it,” action team member Lisa Campisi said.

Ranzetta noted that the committee’s goal was to create a district wish list, even if Mehlville can’t afford it now.

The planning committee is charged with developing a Comprehensive School Im-provement Plan to present to the Board of Education for approval.

As part of the long-range planning process, the district solicited four action teams of employees and district residents to research and develop ideas regarding finance, academic achievement, facilities and technology.

The academic achievement and technology teams last week outlined their aspirations for the district.

Most of the plans — though long-term — would cost the district money at a time it is roughly $2 million to $3 million in the hole, according to numerous presentations by district administrators. Addressing the finance action team more than a month ago, Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed said the district needed to shave its budget for the coming year by about $3 million to maintain a 5 percent reserve. A tax-rate in-crease is needed, Reed said.

Since that time, the district conducted a community survey, asking questions regarding a tax-rate increase. Support wasn’t particularly strong — 25.4 percent of respondents “definitely” would favor a 50-cent tax-rate increase per $100 assessed valuation while 33 percent “definitely would not; 24.4 percent would “probably” support the measure while 9.6 percent “probably” would not.

The survey carries a 4.4 percent margin of error.

In a recent survey conducted by the same company, the Chilenski Strategy Group, the Lindbergh School District received more than 50 percent support from those surveyed, but the district’s tax-rate referendum still failed April 5 with 58 percent of voters casting “no” ballots.

To boost their chances, one action team suggested the district hire a marketing professional, send out more letters to the community, not just parents, and schedule more social activities, such as luncheons with businesses and civic organizations.

“We were looking at, you know, bringing more businesses and organizations (to) support the district financially and also building a sense of community again, further developing the trust,” said Tifini Schlundt, president of the Oakville Ele-mentary School Parent Teacher Organiza-tion.

“(Mehlville) could consult with a marketing expert to improve the image of the district, share district achievements, building on the morale of the employees and improving the relationship with the public media,” she added.

Not everyone agreed with hiring a marketing firm, however, or establishing communication lines with the media.

“As a taxpayer that just had a 30 percent increase on the taxes on my home, if I find out you spent $160,000 on an expert, there went your morale, your positive image,” committee member Alan Farmer said.

Mehlville Senior High School Principal Vince Viviano, who served on the technology team, said the “key is two-way communication between stakeholders and the district.”

He wants to see the Mehlville Messenger distributed monthly rather than quarterly, saying paid advertising could cover the cost.

The list of action plans also included:

• More staff development time.

• More staff development trainers.

• More social workers.

• More teachers and smaller classes.

• More buses and/or new bus routes.

• More drug dogs.

• A safety/security position administrator in the Central Office.

• More health services for students.

• A district Web master and redesigned Web site.

• Curriculums for students with varying abilities.

• “Remedial” teachers at each middle and elementary school.

• More tutoring.

• More technical support people.

• And updated labs and computer software.

All plans are preliminary and still need approval from the planning committee before going to the Board of Education for final approval.

“We were very idealistic when it came to spending money,” action team member Amy Young said.

“A lot of these are in place,” said action team member Joan Wiese, principal of Trautwein Accelerated School. “We got a lot of good things going on in the district.”

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