Mehlville COMPASS team discusses technology successes, challenges

Technology focus of Sept. 10 COMPASS meeting

By MIKE ANTHONY

While Proposition P helped the Mehlville School District meet or exceed its former technology goals, the district now faces the challenge of funding a technology plan that has been recognized as exemplary by the state.

Director of Information Technology Systems Steven Lee last week discussed the school district’s technology program during a meeting of the Facilitating Team for Mehlville’s community-engagement program, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Technology will be the focus of the next COMPASS meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road. At that meeting, Lee and Director of Learning Resources/Instructional Technology Yvonne Morris will make a presentation about the state of the district’s technology program.

A Technology Fair featuring a variety of vendors will precede the COMPASS meeting from 5 to 7 p.m.

During the Facilitating Team meeting on Aug. 20, members heard a preliminary technology presentation from Lee. Morris was unable to attend the meeting.

Since the passage of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program in November 2000, Mehlville has made great strides in technology, Lee told Facilitating Team members.

Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase.

However, a final budget revision approved in December 2005 raised the Proposition P budget to $89,137,440 — a roughly 30.3-percent increase — more than $20.7 million over the nearly $68.4 million building-improvement program originally envisioned.

While the primary focus of Proposition P was buildings, it also included roughly $7 million for new technology throughout the district, and Lee noted that all goals and action items from the district’s 2003 Technology Plan were either met or exceeded. The district’s 2006 Technology Plan, he added, was awarded Exemplary Status by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But Lee noted that many of the original computers purchased with Proposition P funds now are outdated. One of the key weaknesses of the program has been the inability to have a recurring source of funding, he said.

“… When we do get funding, it’s a one-time shot … and then we find ourselves buying computers and here we are seven years after Prop P and we’ve got computers that are falling apart …,” Lee said.

During a discussion of funding the district’s Technology Plan, he estimated the cost to be $3.1 million, including $450,000 for security systems for all buildings, with annual costs of roughly $2.15 million for equipment, staff and training.

Facilitating Team Co-chair Dan Fowler said one question raised during Lee’s presentation is whether Mehlville has a timely replacement program for its technology equipment.

“It seems to me that it is, as you said, it’s start and stop — start and stop. And so what school district is there in St. Louis County that, you know, what does it take to keep our equipment up to date and in front on an annual basis? Do we budget?” he asked.

Superintendent Terry Noble replied, “No, and that’s a good point … We haven’t done that here, but what most districts do now is they reserve a portion of their levy and they do the lease/purchase of the equipment. They don’t buy it because it’s outdated in three years …”

Fowler said, “So would the general public of the Mehlville School District be interested in part of their levy being set aside to make sure that our technology is kept up?”

Dwight Dickinson later said he believed that a small percentage of Kirkwood’s tax levy “goes every year to technology and to maintenance. And I think that was set up in perpetuity.”

Fowler said, “… I think we need to point that out during the presentation. From what I keep hearing is, I understand that we have all these issues, but the real issue is — and tell me if I’m wrong here — is that we just can’t keep it going year after year. It’s just stop and jerk, move forward, step backwards constantly … What’s the solution to that? We need an ongoing …”

Noble interjected, “Funding source — funding source — and replacement schedule.”

Fowler continued, “To replace and maintain our equipment to keep it up to the 21st century. I’ve got to believe that the general public wants to hear that because right now Mehlville’s not doing that. Is that right?”

Noble said, “Correct.”

At one point, Facilitating Team member and Board of Education Secretary Micheal Ocello asked Lee, “… Do we know how we stack up? Because on one hand we’re saying: Let’s compare ourselves to a high-performing school. But how do we compare to the other folks around us?”

Lee replied that many area school districts are impressed with the technology Mehlville has.

“… When I talk to another school district that’s asking me how to hang their first projection system … I know we put in 120 this summer. I just kind of go: Wow. So I really think in a lot of areas we are leaps and bounds ahead of other districts.”

Ocello said, “… I think that’s something that we ought to share, allow people to feel proud about. There’s certainly needs and I think we need to address those, but I think there’s something to be said if people can say: You know what, we’ve done pretty good so far. Maybe not as good as we all would like. But we’ve got a good start and let’s don’t allow that to slide.”

Noble said, “We need a replacement schedule in place and a funding mechanism in place.”

Ocello said, “I think that’s a different story from: Gosh, we’re just down here at the bottom and we really suck terribly …”

Fowler interjected, “Well, what happened — Prop P got us there. Am I correct?”

Noble said, “Yes.”

Fowler said, “The problem is it’s additional funding. So it seems to me, the question begs to ask: Why do we not currently have a decent schedule? What’s the answer?”

Noble said, “… The levy needs to be devoted to some other critical needs …”

Fowler said, “There you go. In other words, Mehlville doesn’t have the money to do that.”

Ocello said, “… From my perspective at least, I think we need to give people something to feel proud about, not just sound like we’re walking in and saying: Hey, you need to give us money. And to me, that’s what it starts to sound like that we’re going: We don’t have. We don’t have. We ought to be saying: Look, we’ve made some great steps and we’re here. Let’s don’t lose it.”

Noble said, “But if the Prop P levy … had been designed to be ongoing instead of having a sunset clause in it, then there could have been figured in there a replacement mechanism and it could have been ongoing, but that’s going to go away. That’s a one-time purchase. That’s why Steve didn’t have the option to lease …”

Lee said, “We actually had that in our 1998 technology plan. We put together a model for an ongoing levy. It was — it doesn’t seem like a lot — five or six cents a year …”

He later said, “… Prop P’s taken us to that next level and it’s really exciting in our classrooms. But as we look at next year, instead of a school being able to look at new technology like we did projectors this year or more SMART Boards or audio systems in the classroom, we’ve got to start pumping that money back into the systems we already have … So we can’t look at some of the emerging technology because we’re looking at suddenly we’re going to start losing ground on the stuff we’ve got …”

Referring to the upcoming COMPASS meeting, Ocello said, “I think that’s a great story to tell …”