Mehlville’s COMPASS program pushed into summer

Look for some ‘smart ideas’ on district financing, Fowler says

By BURKE WASSON

To more fully study the recommendations collected from participants of its public-engagement program, the Mehlville School District will push that process into the summer.

The Facilitating Team for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — now will meet into June and tentatively present its final recommendations to the Mehlville Board of Education in July. Those plans formed through COMPASS, which conducted its first community-engagement meeting in April, originally were set to be introduced in May to the school board.

However, because two aspects — facilities and instructional programs — that already have been presented to the public in COMPASS are so “enormous,” Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler said the teams behind those two areas would like to present their latest findings to the public.

“The two aspects are the facilities plan and … the educational plan are so big and so enormous that we feel we want to bring them back to our group here to get some feedback from our group before we take it further to the CES (community-engagement session) meeting,” Fowler said last week to the Facilitating Team. “And so I guess what we’re looking for is if we could get buy-in from all of you to extend two meetings.”

Two additional community-engagement sessions now will be scheduled to allow for facilities and instructional programming to be presented again to the public in an updated fashion.

Upcoming community-engagement sessions will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Mondays at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road, and include:

• Feb. 11 — Safety and security.

• March 10 — A recap and review of instructional programs and services.

• April 14 — A recap and review of facilities.

• April 28 — Present the Facilitating Team’s initial set of possible packages of recommendations to the Board of Education.

• June 2 — To present the final package for selection and refinement to be recommended in July to the school board.

Fowler added that because the Board of Education would have until August to decide whether to place any recommendations on the November ballot, the Facilitating Team might wish to have the school board attend the team’s final meetings to gain a better feel for those recommendations.

“We will be making a presentation to the Board of Education,” Fowler said. “This is the reason why I think it is important that the board is here. The board may well approve the plan on that night. If they don’t, sometimes they’ll put it on the agenda for information and they’ll approve it at the next board meeting. The only thing that we’re running up against here is if the board decides to do something in November as far as a ballot measure, I believe the last time you can do that is some time in August. If in fact there’s a recommendation to do that.”

While the Facilitating Team — comprised of residents, employees, Board of Education members and students — ultimately will whittle down residents’ ideas collected at a total of 13 community-engagement sessions into a set of recommendations to the school board, Fowler said from his talks with district administrators, the community will be “surprised.”

“I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Fowler said. “If you’re a cheap taxpayer, you’re really going to be surprised at that (June 2) meeting. I think the whole group is going to be surprised …

“I think that our Superintendent (Terry Noble) has got some really smart ideas on our financing that I think the community and this group is going to be very, very excited about. I really do. There’s some innovative ways of financing some of our projects that the community, I believe, will find very acceptable.”

But to reach a consensus and fully exhaust residents’ ideas gathered through community-engagement sessions in 2007 and 2008, district officials believe that extending COMPASS into the summer is necessary.

Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC, the consulting firm the district hired in November 2006 to assist in the public-engagement process that became COMPASS, last week told the Facilitating Team that it is important for not only the team, but also the community to review ideas gathered through COMPASS to gain clearer perspective.

“We’ve heard so much and we’ve been at this for such a long time, we think it’s really important before we get to that recommendation that we have a session with COMPASS to do a recap and review,” Burns said. “Here’s all the stuff that we’ve learned. Here’s all the stuff that you’ve told us. Here’s all the stuff we’ve found out in terms of the facilities study, the engineering study, the instructional-design committee that’s been working. Here’s all of the things that we’ve heard and now have a recap or review validation session. The same would be true of the instructional programs and services.

“And so, we thought it might be good to have a couple of sessions before we come back and say in these big clusters that you talked about, here’s all the stuff that we’ve learned. And there may be a feedback mechanism to that. Here’s all the stuff that we’ve learned and what we’re projecting for programs and services. Now based upon all of that, we will begin to come to you in the next sessions with sets and scenarios of recommendations. And so, in essence, what we’re adding really is those recap and review sessions.”

“… And the more we as a group do that, the better we can present something of high quality to the Board of Education,” Facilitating Team co-chair Jim Schibig said. “And that’s going to take some time.”

“That’s when the real fun starts,” Fowler said. “It’s when we sit down and start as a group putting together a final recommendation to the board. That’s when the real fun starts.”