South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville’s three-month strategic planning process underway

Board votes 7-0 to approve consultant for strategic plan

A strategic-plan consultant is already meeting with residents to find out their thoughts on the Mehlville School District, after the Board of Education got the ball rolling on the district’s three-month strategic-planning process last week.

The school board approved the lowest bid it received for a consultant for the strategic plan, $41,000 for Opinion Research Specialists of Springfield, when it met at Oakville Elementary School Aug. 21.

The company submitted the lowest and best bid, said Superintendent Norm Ridder, who also used the company for Springfield Public Schools’ strategic plan when he took over that district in 2005.

The board unanimously agreed to hire Opinion Research Specialists as a consultant, 7-0. Travel costs will be extra, not to exceed $4,000. The other bids included $63,100 from St. Louis-based Johanak and Associates and $142,650, including travel, from Maryland-based UPD Consulting.

“My only concern is will it get everybody in this community?” board Secretary Lori Trakas asked, noting she was concerned about how the consultant would reach all the segments of a diverse community. “This is a good opportunity, and it’s going to be quite a bit of money. But if it’s done right, if all the truth comes out to make it a better district for the students, I think it’d be great.”

Trakas has voted against all new spending in the district since the board approved a $110 million budget with a $5 million deficit in May, but she told the Call she voted for the strategic plan because it is so vital for the future of the students and community members of the district that the expense is justified.

Opinion Research Specialists will meet with residents in their homes this week, before asking members of focus groups questions based on what they learn from those in-home visits. They will send out phone surveys to frequent voters and meet one-on-one with each board member, with a goal for the board to approve a new strategic plan before Jan. 1, Ridder said.

As part of the process, the district will also debut a new business breakfast series, “Good Morning Mehlville-Oakville,” Thursday, Sept. 4.

The breakfasts are modeled after Ridder’s successful “Good Morning, Springfield!” breakfasts, and community and business leaders will be able to give their feedback on the district and what they think its priorities should be at the events.

The process for the district’s strategic plan is highly innovative and is completely different than past plans the district has undergone, Ridder said.

“You really don’t see it in any other district in the state of Missouri — or really, very few districts in the whole Midwest,” Ridder noted.

In all, human-centered design, which was developed by San Francisco-based consultant IDEO, is only regularly used by four or five school districts across the country for strategic planning, most of them much larger than Mehlville, Ridder told the Call.

“I have yet to do this where you’re not surprised by what the community tells you,” Ridder said.

“As a data seeker, I’m very excited about this,” board member Jean Pretto said. “I think we’ve had, in the past, a disconnect with the community that this will certainly bridge, and I’m excited for it.”

“My biggest fear is that sometimes when you force those questions out, you get people who are eager to support the district and tell you 88 cents (on the ballot) is what you can get,” board President Ron Fedorchak said. “And that didn’t reflect what the community wanted. How do we know that that won’t happen again?”

In 2006 and 2010 after strategic-plan initiatives aimed at ballot measures, Mehlville voters overwhelmingly defeated 97-cent and 88-cent tax-rate-increases, respectively.

“This group (Opinion Research Specialists) will never allow us to guess and hope too high,” Ridder told the board. “It’s going to be the true frequent voter that’s telling us … This is the community talking. It’s amazing how everything just comes at you.”

Director of Information Technology Steven Lee examined five vendors for paperless meeting software and recommended the board approve a light version of eBoard Solutions at an annual recurring cost of $9,600 and an additional $500 setup fee this year.

When the board met July 24, they considered the full version of eBoard Solutions with every extra module for $17,460, but tabled the issue so they could also examine other vendors.

To save money, Lee recommended that the board not go with additional modules at this time. He chose to recommend eBoard Solutions over his other leading choice, BoardDocs, because eBoard has a direct tie-in with Missouri School Board Association policies and because he and Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Sharon Peiffer, who puts together the board books for every meeting, preferred the flow of eBoard Solutions and believed it was superior software.

The board voted 6-1 to try the software out for seven months at a prorated cost, with Trakas voting no.

“I appreciate the value, and I see the value … I look at this, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that looks great, that’s something I want,’” Trakas said, noting that the district also has many other needs, including new buses. “I foresee this being good for the board, but right now I have to put the students first.”

When the board last considered paperless meetings in October 2012, former Superintendent Eric Knost and board members concluded it was less expensive to continue printing board books since the printing fell under the district’s million-copy printing allotment.

However, Ridder said going paperless and using software with strategic-planning tie-ins like eBoard Solutions will help the district make more intelligent and focused decisions, with will pay off untold dividends for students.

Springfield uses BoardDocs, and Ridder noted that one board member in Springfield would get on Facebook and Twitter during board meetings to survey residents about board decisions in real time, which he was able to do because community members could access all the documents from the board’s meeting at the same time as board members could.

“It’s really comparing apples and oranges,” Ridder said. “It’s really hard to make the comparison of paper and eBoards and BoardDocs.”

More to Discover