Mehlville school board eyes bids for survey, public engagement

Unicom-ARC was consultant for Mehlville’s Proposition P

By MIKE ANTHONY

Bids for a community survey and a public-engagement process are scheduled to be considered Wednesday, Nov. 15, by the Mehlville Board of Education.

The Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m. in the Mehlville Senior High School Library, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.

A committee comprised of interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers and three Board of Education members — Vice President Karl Frank Jr., Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello — is recommending bids for the community survey and public-engagement process be awarded to Unicom-ARC.

Unicom-ARC’s bid for the community survey is $21,750, and the firm’s bid for the public-engagement process includes a monthly fee of $4,000 to $6,000 for a roughly six-month period, including professional fees. Reimbursables, such as printing, video production, travel and graphic design, would be billed at cost.

The district had issued a request for proposals, or RFP, for the community survey and the public-engagement process with an Oct. 18 deadline.

The district received four bids for the community survey — a fifth bid was received after the deadline and not considered — and three bids for the public-engagement process. In reviewing the proposals, the committee unanimously agreed to conduct interviews with two of the firms — the Vandiver Group and Unicom-ARC — for both the community survey and the public-engagement process.

“… (The) two firms are based in St. Louis and submitted written proposals that were judged as superior to others received,” Chambers wrote in a memorandum to the Board of Education.

The interviews were conducted Oct. 31 by the four committee members, North Area Superintendent Eric Knost and interim Chief Financial Officer Brent Bell.

Based on those interviews, Chambers wrote, “It is the unanimous recommendation of the committee to award both RFPs to Unicom-ARC.”

The Vandiver Group’s bid for the community survey ranged from $27,400 to $28,400. The firm’s bid for the public-engagement process included varied costs of $6,500 to $7,000, plus $3,000 to $5,000 per month over a 12-month period. The cost of copies and travel were not included.

“Using location, experience and success as criteria, we will be able to recommend Unicom-ARC to the rest of the board with confidence,” Frank told the Call. “I have to tell you, it was the first time that I have served on an RFP committee and I was certainly pleased with the thoroughness of the process. Mike Ocello’s experience as a successful businessman and Tom Diehl’s experience in public relations really came in handy as we broke down the pluses and minuses of every submission, finding that Unicom-ARC clearly stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

“Unicom-ARC will be able to do a ‘customer-satisfaction’ survey that will help us identify what the public believes we are doing right and what we could be doing better,” Frank added. “Quite often, district officials may think they are on the same page as the community, but then they look at survey results and see that they were quite disconnected. Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t. Surveys and public-engagement processes are both worthy and necessary in helping boards of education determine if they are governing the people’s school district the way they want it governed.”

Unicom-ARC last served as a consultant to the district in late 1999 and 2000, conducting a public-engagement process that led up to the successful passage of the Proposition P districtwide building-improvement program six years ago.

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.

In an Oct. 17 letter to Chambers, Unicom-ARC President Rod Wright wrote, “Our firm has a long history with the Mehlville School District — a history that traces back to the early 1990s. Our most recent experience was a public-engagement program – Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities — that resulted in a successful ballot proposal by the district in November 2000.

“We also conducted a public-engagement program for the Mehlville Fire Protection District that preceded a successful ballot proposal in November 2004. We are eager to once again help the district achieve its goals and address its challenges in providing outstanding education.”

The firm’s public-engagement process would lead to the development of a strategic, long-range plan, according to Wright.

“Our work for Mehlville School District will including facilitating a public-engagement and communications process leading to the development of the strategic, long-range plan,” he wrote. “The plan will include strategies and action to address such areas as facilities, finance and the educational program. We would work with the district to identify, enlist, train and guide a core group — the Facilitating Team — of community members to provide leadership for the process and assist the team in formulating the final plan for presentation to the Board of Education.”