Mehlville will kick off COMPASS II sessions starting next Tuesday

Saturday COMPASS sessions planned in new round of community engagement

By EVAN YOUNG

Mehlville schools do a pretty good job of educating students with the resources they have — but they could be better.

The team behind the Mehlville School District’s long-range improvement plan hopes to communicate that message to its stakeholders when another round of community engagement kicks off next week.

COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — begins with the first of six community engagement sessions from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

A repeat session also is scheduled from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at Buerkle Middle School, 623 Buckley Road.

The second chapter of COMPASS picks up where the first left off, with a community trying to determine the best way to implement a plan that will make Mehlville a high-performing school district.

After conducting public engagement sessions in 2007 and 2008, the first COMPASS Facilitating Team used the community’s input to develop a four-phase improvement plan. Each phase contained recommendations for improving various areas of the district, such as curriculum, staffing and safety.

In June 2008, the Facilitating Team presented its plan to the Board of Education and recommended sending two proposals to voters: a transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund and a 37-cent tax-rate increase.

The school board voted to put the transfer proposal on the ballot, and more than 62 percent of voters approved the measure — Proposition T — in November 2008. Prop T is expected to generate roughly $5.6 million a year for the operating fund to stabilize the district’s finances.

The 37-cent tax-rate increase would have restored the district’s levy to the 2006 amount of $3.64 per $100 of assessed valuation, funded the first phase of COMPASS recommendations and helped fund the remaining three phases. But board members rejected the proposal after a survey found that 59 percent of 400 participants would oppose it.

Next week’s opening COMPASS II session will provide participants with an overview of the COMPASS recommendations and address the current state of the school district. Based on the Facilitating Team’s rundown of next week’s presentation during a recent meeting, attendees can expect to hear a mix of good news and bad.

They will hear about the impact of Prop T, which has helped the district eliminate a budget deficit; restore cuts in areas such as textbooks and tutoring; and fund staff salaries for the current school year. The measure did not increase the Mehlville’s tax rate, but extended the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years.

They will learn about the district’s accomplishments since COMPASS I, including its receipt of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Distinction in Performance Award for the fourth consecutive year. Mehlville met all 14 performance standards on the 2008-2009 Annual Performance Report from the state.

And participants will see a list of COMPASS goals that Mehlville has achieved, such as the addition of teaching staff and Advanced Placement courses, as well as the installation of security cameras in the district’s two high schools and energy-efficient lighting in certain gymnasiums.

But next Tuesday’s presentation also will highlight the district’s academic and financial challenges.

In 2008-2009, when compared with the other 23 school districts in St. Louis County, Mehlville ranked 13th out of 23 for dropout rate, 17th for student-teacher ratio and 22nd for per pupil expenditure.

On the financial side, officials are projecting zero growth in the district’s local revenue, and possible cuts to its state revenue, for the next three years.

The original funding structure for COMPASS assumed that assessed valuation of property in the district would grow by 2 percent every assessment cycle. Under such a scenario, the district would have gone to voters to seek a tax-rate rollback waiver, the revenue from which would’ve helped fund the remaining three phases of COMPASS.

Taxing entities must roll back their tax rate when assessed valuation increases to a point where it outpaces the cost of living. The Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment limits the amount of revenue they can receive from increases in property values to the lesser of 5 percent or the Consumer Price Index. Conversely, when assessed valuation drops, they can roll up their rate to prevent losing property-tax dollars, even though they don’t gain any new revenue.

Mehlville was prepared to ask voters in 2010, 2012 and 2014 to waive the tax-rate rollback provision so it could levy an estimated eight additional cents, which would have funded the second, third and fourth COMPASS phases.

But assessed valuation dropped a total of 3 percent in 2009 across all four categories: residential, commercial, agricultural and personal property. The district rolled up its tax rate, and officials determined the COMPASS funding scenario no longer worked.

Besides the presentation, next week’s session attendees will break into small groups and be asked to reach a consensus on issues that need to be addressed during the course of COMPASS II. Each group will select a spokesperson to report its results.

The district contracted with communications firm UNICOM•ARC last fall to help the Facilitating Team plan and carry out COMPASS II. The agreement will cost the district $44,000 for eight months, or $60,000 with a four-month extension.

In addition, UNICOM•ARC and the Facilitating Team produced a video — for an additional $22,000 — that promotes the district and invites viewers to the upcoming community engagement sessions. A speaker’s bureau has been screening the video at various events throughout the district.

The next three community engagement sessions will focus on improvements needed at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Participants then will use the remaining two meetings to compile, review and finalize their COMPASS II recommendations.

Following is a schedule of the remaining five COMPASS II sessions:

• 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Bernard Middle School, with a repeat session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at Point Elementary School, 6790 Telegraph Road.

• 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, March 1, at Bernard Middle School, with a repeat session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 27, at Washington Elementary School, 5165 Ambs Road.

• 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 12, at Bernard Middle School, with a repeat session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 17, at Forder Elementary School, 623 W. Ripa Ave.

• 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, May 3, at Bernard Middle School, with a repeat session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 8, at Oakville Middle School, 5950 Telegraph Road.

• 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, May 17, at Bernard Middle School, with a repeat session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 22, at Bernard Middle School.