Mehlville panel slated to fine-tune potential ballot recommendations

More than 150 COMPASS participants last week make suggestions for long-range plan

By BURKE WASSON

The Facilitating Team for the Mehlville School District’s public-engagement program was scheduled this week to fine-tune its recommendations regarding two potential November ballot issues.

Mehlville School District officials are considering asking voters in November to transfer 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of the district’s capital debt-service levy into the district’s operating fund.

That transfer would remedy recent projections of the district’s operating-fund balance falling below the state-required 3-percent minimum in 2010.

Additionally, the Facilitating Team tentatively has proposed a separate ballot measure in November that would ask voters to approve an operating-fund tax-rate increase of 37 cents per $100 of assessed value as the first of four phases of a new master plan incorporating suggestions from the district’s community-engagement sessions. The proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase would restore the district’s tax rate to its 2006 level as the total tax rate would jump to roughly $3.64 from $3.27 per $100 of assessed value.

Both options were presented last week to the community at a community-engagement session as part of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

The Facilitating Team was scheduled Monday night — after the Call went to press — to refine those options based on input heard at last week’s community-engagement session.

Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler told those participants last week that the team of district residents, employees, school-board members and students is doing its best to develop a “compromise” among the many suggestions they have heard.

“I’ve had people who have said to me we need to go for it all,” Fowler said. “I’ve had people who have said to me we can’t afford it, not another penny. And I think that what the Facilitating Team has done is kind of come up with a compromise.”

The team is slated June 24 to present those recommendations to the Mehlville Board of Education.

As tentatively proposed, the 37-cent property-tax in-crease would be the first of four phases of elections to fund the district’s master plan. According to district officials, a 37-cent tax-rate increase for an owner of a $200,000 home would result in an additional investment of $140.60 per year, or $11.71 per month.

The district would also ask voters in November elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 to maintain the district’s operating levy by waiving the district’s estimated 8-cent tax-levy rollback in each of those years.

With that initial 37-cent tax-rate increase, the district could fund the following services beginning in the 2009-2010 school year: all-day kindergarten, early childhood expansion, English Language Learner teachers, counselors and elementary remedial reading teachers. The additional 37 cents would also allow staff salaries “to become equal to the county average,” according to the district.

The increase would also fund improvements in 2009 in technology as the district could update current computers, implement wireless technology and classroom multimedia technology and add related technology staff and training.

The first phase also calls for full video security, scheduled replacement of district buses, appropriate facilities for all-day kindergarten, modification in early childhood satellite facilities, safety and security improvements, indoor air quality improvements, acoustic improvements, infrastructure improvements and a performing arts center at each high school.

As for transferring funds out of capital debt into the district’s operating fund, that proposal would come with no tax increase.

Fowler is “highly confident” that the debt-service transfer proposal will go on the November ballot.

Without that transfer, Fowler has estimated that the district would have to “make cuts that dig into the very core” of district programs and not only lose district teachers to other districts, but also be at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring highly qualified new teachers.

As first reported by the Call, financial projections indicate the school district’s operating-fund balance will dip below the state-required 3-percent minimum by the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

Superintendent Terry Noble previously told the Call that he was taken aback by the newly projected 0.02-percent estimated operating-fund balance for the end of the 2009-2010 school year. That new projection differed significantly from a 2007 projection that the district would have an operating-fund balance of 5.75 percent on June 30, 2010.

Noble said last week that transferring 31 cents from the district’s capital debt levy into the operating fund would fix that projected shortfall.

As for the Facilitating Team’s proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase to fund the first phase of district improvements suggested through COMPASS, Fowler has said that will continue to be debated and emphasized that the proposal is only the team’s first draft and will likely be modified.

More than 150 people at last week’s session developed a number of suggestions for the long-range master plan.

Among suggestions offered by COMPASS participants are: reducing class sizes, better communicating their goals with the public, communicating the district’s long-range master plan with the public, following through on promises made in a tax-increase proposal if passed, seeking more community involvement, having equal technology in all schools, providing more detailed information on the phases of the district’s long-range master plan, reaching out to senior citizens, allowing students to sooner take classes for college credit, implementing full-day kindergarten, having “open, honest communication,” meeting No Child Left Behind standards, expanding the district’s curriculum, and providing backup plans if a ballot measure fails.

Also: focusing more on what the district needs rather than comparing Mehlville to other districts, moving the construction of performing arts centers at each high school to a later phase, extending the master plan to 15 years, defining goals more thoroughly, waiting until the district is out of “crisis mode” to ask for a ballot measure, raising teacher salaries to higher than the county average, trying to be among the top 10 school districts in Missouri, moving additional remedial-reading teachers to the first phase of the master plan, providing more resources for student intervention, expanding the district’s gifted program and forming an extensive plan to recruit the support of residents without children in district schools.