Mehlville School District residents have chance to critique district

Knost to deliver Mehlville's first state-of-the-district address April 16

By BURKE WASSON

Mehlville School District residents have the chance next week to not only hear the school system’s first-ever state-of-the-district address, but also critique the district itself.

Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost will deliver Mehlville’s first state-of-the-district address at 7 p.m. Monday, April 16, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

The address begins the first of 11 community-engagement sessions for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools. Each community-engagement session will run from 7 to 9 p.m. and continue until April 14, 2008.

Among the areas that Knost will discuss in Monday’s state-of-the-district address are the district’s facilities, staffing, students, academic achievement, communications, technology, safety/security and finances/resources.

After Knost’s roughly 30-minute address, those present will be asked to provide their opinions and concerns on numerous aspects of the district. Audience members will be broken into various groups and will be asked to summarize their ideas and concerns, which will be collected and recorded for further study by the COMPASS Facilitating Team.

After each of the community-engagement sessions has been completed, the Facilitating Team will in May 2008 present a summary of the community’s recommendations from those sessions to the Board of Education.

Next week’s first community-engagement session will also include a roughly 40-minute “open-mic” period in which each group of audience members can openly discuss their concerns and suggestions for the district.

But before the COMPASS Facilitating Team studies any ideas from the community, the district will first focus on its current condition, which Knost will do in the state-of-the-district address.

Former school-board member Dan Fowler, who serves as co-chairman of the Facilitating Team with former Beasley Elementary School Principal Jim Schibig, said while the address will show that the district is in good shape, it will also hone in on areas where it falls short.

“The Mehlville School District is doing good, but we have our challenges,” Fowler said. “What are those challenges? We have some issues dealing with our facilities. We have some issues dealing with academic performance. We are dealing with curriculum. We have some issues with not properly funding our staff to keep them here.”

The Mehlville School District’s beginning teacher salaries are ranked 21 of 22 accredited St. Louis County school districts. Teachers at the highest pay scale rank 20 of those 22 districts in the county.

As for how much the community is paying for district services, the Mehlville School District’s tax levy per $100 of assessed valuation is the fifth-cheapest among the 22 accredited school districts in St. Louis County. The district’s current tax levy is slightly less than $3.64 per $100 of assessed valuation. That ranks 18th of 22 when compared to the accredited county districts with $2.98 being the lowest tax levy and $5.73 the highest.

But while the district’s tax levy is the fifth-lowest among accredited county school districts, only one such district spends less per student than the Mehlville School District.

Per-pupil expenditure in the Mehlville School District is $7,143.66 per year per student. That ranks 21st of 22 school districts in the county with $6,630.63 annually per student being the lowest and $15,248.31 annually per student being the highest.

Additional information expected to be included about the district in the address is the fact that the school district is its community’s largest single employer and serves more than 11,000 students in 18 school facilities.

Of the more than 11,000 students, the district serves 1,855 special-education students and has 1,005 language minority students. Twenty-eight languages are represented among students in the district.

Class sizes do not exceed the minimum allowed by the state but are typically above the “desirable” level set by the state.

The district has enjoyed academic success and was awarded the Distinction in Performance Award in 2006 by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE. The district was one of 11 of the 22 accredited school districts in the county to be awarded that honor.

But along with the district’s successes, Knost is expected to also speak about the school system’s shortcomings compared to other county school districts and ways the district needs to further improve.

One of the proposed improvements is a plan to upgrade the district’s Web site, which received more than 1.3 million hits in 2006.

Another area that the district might need to improve is in technology. In a recent study of technology in St. Louis area schools, the Mehlville School District ranked last in student-to-computer ratios.

At the same time, the school district’s current technology plan was recognized by DESE as a “model plan.”

But while that plan was approved by the Board of Education, the district has been unable to completely fund it.

Lack of funding also has prevented district officials from fully implementing the school system’s safety and security plan.

The board has approved the installation of electronic locking systems at elementary and middle schools and security cameras at both high schools.

Besides all the information expected to be included in the state-of-the-district address, Knost will also begin the speech with a short history of the school district.

The community-engagement session will ask audience members to form groups and give their ideas on academic achievement/student performance, facilities, staffing, technology, finances/resources, communications, safety/security and demographics/enrollment.

The school board hired UNICOM•ARC as a consulting service in November to assist with the public-engagement program.

The Facilitating Team charged with seeking and refining residents’ concerns into an executive summary includes six district residents, three Board of Education members, two teachers and two students.

Monday night will be those residents’ first chance, according to Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC, to contribute to the entire community-engagement process.

“It’s going to be a combination of trying to deliver what folks are saying they want and what they need to know,” he said. “This is a teaching opportunity. Remember, in this whole process, we teach, but we’re going to learn, too. So that’s what it’s about.”