Placing more resources in the classroom was a recurring theme during a recent planning session conducted by the Mehlville Board of Education.
During the roughly 3.5-hour work session, Central Office administrators reported on progress made toward goals outlined in the district’s Comprehensive School Improve-ment Plan, discussing curriculum, student achievement, human resources, student services and long-range planning with board members. Board of Education members also discussed progress made toward goals they established for themselves last year.
Several times during the discussion, administrators and board members commented on the need for placing additional resources in the classroom.
After hearing updates from Connie Hurst-Bayless, assistant superintendent for curriculum, and A.D. McClain, assistant superintendent for human resources, Superin-tendent Tim Ricker noted, “… We don’t have a lot of materials, the resources, the things that we need for the curriculum and instruction in textbooks, the ancillary materials, the consumables, the resources that are needed in all the classrooms pre-K to 12. The thing we don’t have is we don’t have the class sizes that we’d like to have that are optimum, that we consider to be optimum, and that we believe takes those good teachers and helps them be better and those great teachers, it makes them do extraordinary things because our class sizes are derived by our re-sources, our budget.
“So while we get great people, the thing that we don’t know is could we do even better if we were competing with those whose salary structures were thousands, tens of thousands in some cases, higher in certain areas than where we are? And would we look differently if we looked towards an employee that we could afford — not look in terms of what we can afford vs. what we can get?
“So, I mean in many cases we’re our own worst enemy because we make it look good and we make it sound good …,” Ricker said, noting Mehlville’s per-pupil expenditure cost is second lowest in the county at $6,974.18.
“Now, some would say well, that’s great. You get a great value and we do. I’m not denying that,” he said.
However, he noted that he and the district’s new chief financial officer, Stephen Keyser, earlier that week had attended a Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. meeting.
“… Steve and I had the conversation of who are our kids going to compete with when they leave our system? They’re going to compete with kids who have more things, more opportunities, more programs, lower class sizes and is that what we want for our kids? And it was kind of frustrating, wasn’t it, Steve?”
Ricker continued, “We sat there and they’re talking about holding down their costs and they’re still getting more than we were because we were already paying our exact cost for the program. They were getting hundreds of dollars more and we were still down there with Bayless, who has the lowest cost per pupil …”
South Area Superintendent Keith Klusmeyer later discussed the district’s long-range planning process.
A Long-Range Planning Committee began meeting last year to revise the district’s Comprehensive School Im-provement Plan. More than 300 community volunteers earlier this year divided into action teams — Finance, Fa-cilities, Technology and Academic Achievement — that formulated recommendations for the core committee to consider. Additional meetings of the core group and subgroups are planned once school resumes, with the goal of making final recommendations to the Board of Education in late October.
“… One of the things that we talked about long and early in the process of long-range planning … is we want to dream, OK? We don’t want to maintain the status quo,” Klusmeyer said. “It’s not long-range planning to honor the past only. That is a component of it, decide where we’ve been, but more importantly where we want to be. So you’ll see some things in here and you may say: ‘Well, we can’t afford that in Mehlville.’ Well, you’re right — you’re right. At the present time, we can’t. So prioritization’s going to be a piece of this in the future as well as how are we going to fund it? And, obviously, we’ll have many more discussions related to that …”
Board President Rita Diekemper asked at one point, “… All of this has to go, I guess, to (the) finance (action team) for their input. Will they be the ones who come up with a summary of that, of the cost of implementation?”
Klusmeyer replied, “… I imagine finance is probably going to work in a couple phases. We may get together early in August to talk about some more definite, more it seems to me to start planning for if we decide to move forward with a tax levy as has been discussed, if that’s the case. Then sometime after that, too, we need to take whatever plans are approved by the board, which we hope to by October, and then we’ll go and get more detail.”
Diekemper said, “And that’s where the prioritization comes?”
Klusmeyer said, “Right … I think finance is probably going to work in a couple phases and really be ongoing for quite a while.”
Board member Karl Frank Jr. said, “… It looks like the Long-Range Planning Committee is looking to recommend trying to put a tax levy on the ballot … Worst-case scenario, if it does fail, what happens to all this …”
Klusmeyer said, “Part of that prioritization process — we only prioritize based on what we know and our financial status at the time …”
Frank said, “So is there kind of like a — and I guess I’m saying is there kind of a backup long-range planning thing …”
Klusmeyer said, “… We’ll have to regroup and decide where we want to go at that point. You’re right. We have to think about that because we still need to do business and still work for kids.”
Ricker noted that the proposals formulated by the Long-Range Planning Committee ultimately will go to the community for “understanding” and “communication.” Public forums also will be conducted so residents “know where the plan is headed,” he said, adding that a tax-rate increase is just one of eight result statements for finance under consideration.
“Those would all be part of this plan and it’s an ‘if-then’ statement,” the superintendent said. “If this happens, then that happens. If this doesn’t happen, then something still has to happen and whether it’s decrease the expenditure or another increase in revenue through another strategy or going back out again or doing those kinds of things, we want a large group of people engaged in that … It’s not just an isolated event that we’re working towards. We’re working towards creating our own future and while we might have some successes, we might have some setbacks. And if we have setbacks, we have to do something other than just throw our arms up and go: Well, that’s over with.
“And so we all need to know what the ramifications are or ramifications to the successes. They’re unintended consequences with that and they’re unintended consequences or intended consequences with setbacks and we all need to understand that deeper than just a small segment of our population,” he said, later adding, “And most assuredly, involving more people into this process we’re getting a collective intelligence out of this and a collective direction with a clear understanding. And so what we really want to try to do is work so that we’re not always reacting, al-though there is a reaction to it, but we also can think two, three years down the road …”
Regarding proposals formulated by the action teams, Ricker said, “There are things in here that are dollar need. There are other things in here that are effort need — the human resource planning part, the implementation part, the things of that nature. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it isn’t going to take money to do a lot of these things. I look at some of the things that our people, that Long-Range Planning come up with and again — I’ll say it again — if you go around districts that are our competition, Lindbergh, Rockwood, Parkway, Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Pattonville, our competition, they have these things. Is that OK for us not to and them to or is it OK for us to strive for those things for the betterment of our kids?
“Our community’s going to ultimately answer that question. I think the people sitting around this table, if it was our decision solely to get the resources, I think we would have made that decision a long time ago … Our community’s the one that’s going to make the decision for us,” he said.
After a discussion about progress on the board’s four goals for itself — attain Missouri School Boards Associa-tion advanced certification within the first term of office; increase involvement in state, regional and local organizations to communicate information to the community and impact educational decisions that affect Mehlville; develop a plan to organize efforts to impact decisions at the legislative level that affect Mehlville; and enhance internal and external communications — board member Cindy Christopher suggested a fifth goal.
“… One of our board goals this year should be to provide additional resources for our students in our classrooms …” she said.
Frank suggested a two-part goal in which the board would strive to provide additional resources for students in the classroom, but also exercise fiscal responsibility to en-sure money is spent wisely.