Long-range planning under way in Mehlville

By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

Mehlville School District parents, teachers, administrators, students and other com-munity members are developing plans for the district’s future.

The district’s Long-Range Planning Com-mittee is charged with making annual recommendations to the Board of Education on improving finance, facilities, technology and academic achievement.

The committee has no binding power and its recommendations are only advisory. The school board does not have to act on any of the committee’s suggestions.

“We’re starting with a key group of people that represents the community to talk about what the needs of the district happen to be based on what we know from the past, what we know today to be and what we want the future to look like,” Super-intendent Tim Ricker told the committee at its first meeting last week. “You as a representative of different segments of the community will be able to immediately gather information, to gain information, ask for information and use that information to drive the focus of the district.”

Nearly 100 people applied for the committee, Ricker said, so district officials conducted a double-blind drawing to determine who would serve on the panel. Of the committee’s 26 members, 10 are district em-ployees, one is a retired Mehlville teacher, three are students, 11 are district parents, one lives in the district but doesn’t have children attending Mehlville schools and several have served on other committees, including the finance, redistricting and Vol-untary Interdistrict Choice committees.

“Through the course of this process, we’re looking for you to come forward and help us to provide some carefully developed, integrated and communicative plans to the Board of Education for them to consider as their Comprehensive School Im-provement Plan,” Ricker said.

“One of the basic principles that our district works on is participatory decision making. In other words, including and en-gaging other people into helping make de-cisions. We feel that’s the best way to get a flavor of what our community expects and wants. So there will be parts of the process where we’ll go out to the community and ask what they think. What we’re really, truly wanting you to do is plan for the future,” he continued.

“Since ’91, we’ve been highly reactive to what we’ve been doing in our district. For those who’ve been in the district quite a while, we’re a very resource-hungry or-ganization, but we have limited resources to work with so we’ve been very reactive.

“Quite frankly, we need to think in terms of, again, are we efficiently and effectively using the resources that we have and then do we need to look at other resources that we may not be using,” Ricker said. “… I truly believe our community if they know the facts and they truly know the situation the district’s in, good and bad, that the community will come together and do what’s right for the kids of the community. They have in the past. They’ve shown that in the past, and I think they’ll do that now and in the future.”

District officials will attend the meetings gathering opinions and also will provide information at the committee request.

“They’re not here to make decisions for you. They’re here to help you go through the process,” Ricker said. “As superintendent, my role with (board president) Cindy (Christopher) is sit off to the side as a resource person and to listen, and truly listen to what you have to say. I’m paid to do this (plan). That’s why I’m not on the committee. I have a bias.”

Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Randy Charles is a committee member, however, and will be part of the decision-making process.

Mehlville administrators originally wanted to hire UNICOM/ARC, an outside firm, to facilitate the public engagement pro-cess, but those plans later were scrapped and, instead, district administrators received training on long-range planning.

Those individuals are South Area Super-intendent Keith Klusmeyer, Bernard Mid-dle School Principal Michele Condon and Oakville Senior High School Assistant Principal Brian Lane. They will serve as facilitators while Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed will act as co-chair along with a committee member to be elected by the group later.

In its initial recommendation to approve the long-range planning model, the administration cited the public engagement pro-cess used for Proposition P. In November 2000, voters approved a 49-cent tax-rate in-crease to fund Proposition P, then estimated to cost $68.4 million. However, board members increased the budget to $86.7 million in September 2003 and are considering re-vising the budget to nearly $89 million.