Officials begin to share vision for future of Mehlville School District

Board President Diehl says Mehlville ‘a community at a crossroads’

By BURKE WASSON

Besides asking voters to approve a debt-service transfer in the Nov. 4 election, Mehlville School District officials are sharing their vision for the future.

Those goals, which were formulated through the district’s public-engagement program that began in early 2007, are being described through a series of town-hall meetings at district schools each week until Oct. 29.

The long-term plan was first realized by the Facilitating Team for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — and the Board of Education since has accepted those goals as Mehlville’s official long-term vision.

Before those goals can be implemented, though, COMPASS Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler said he and co-chair Jim Schibig simply must spread the word through these town-hall meetings.

“Our purpose is to get out in the community and to do as much talking as we can about COMPASS, where it’s going and the vision of the Mehlville School District,” Fowler said. “The Board of Education has made COMPASS its vision.”

Residents have two opportunities this week to attend the 7 p.m. town-hall meetings — Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Wohlwend Elementary School, 5966 Telegraph Road, and Thursday, Sept. 18, at Bierbaum Elementary School, 2050 Union Road.

In June, the COMPASS Facilitating Team recommended two ballot measures to the school board — a 31-cent transfer from the district’s debt-service fund to its operating fund and a 37-cent tax-rate increase.

The debt-service transfer is now Proposition T, which voters will decide Nov. 4.

Prop T would generate roughly $5.6 million per year for the operating fund. The measure would not increase Mehlville’s overall tax rate, but would extend the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years.

Superintendent Terry Noble has said Prop T primarily would be used to balance the district’s operating budget. Funding the teachers’ salary schedule — which was frozen for the current school year — along with addressing technology needs and reinstating supply and textbook budgets that were cut this year also likely would be done with funds from Prop T.

Noble said last week at a town-hall meeting at Beasley Elementary School that if voters reject Prop T, the district could be forced to balance its operating fund through personnel cuts and an elimination of block scheduling at high schools.

But while voters will decide Prop T on Nov. 4, the Facilitating Team’s proposed 37-cent tax increase has been shelved. Because 49 percent of Mehlville residents polled in a July telephone survey opposed the 37-cent tax-rate increase, the board decided not to pursue that increase in the Nov. 4 election.

At the same time, Fowler and Schibig last week emphasized that Prop T would be the first step toward implementing the long-term plan through COMPASS.

Beyond Prop T, the long-range plan’s first of four two-year phases includes such programs and services as all-day kindergarten, early childhood expansion, English Language Learner teachers, counselors, elementary remedial-reading teachers, boosting staff salaries so they would “become equal to the county average,” technology updates and safety/security enhancements.

Facilities improvements in the first phase include appropriate facilities for all-day kindergarten, early childhood modifications and improvements in safety/security, indoor air quality, acoustics, student-learning environments, infrastructure and additional classroom and performing-arts space at each high school.

The second phase would include adding librarians, implementing portable one-to-one technology at the high schools and related technology staff and making further improvements to safety/security, infrastructure, learning environments and libraries.

The third phase calls for increasing college-credit classes and staffing as well as adding counselors, middle-school remedial-reading teachers, social workers and elementary physical-education teachers.

The third phase also proposes expanding the district’s communications and curriculum programs and including summer staff development. Portable one-to-one technology would be implemented at the middle-school level, and facilities improvements to gyms as well as infrastructure and safety/security would take place.

The fourth phase includes implementing elementary foreign language, further expanding the curriculum program and staffing, adding a district registrar, adding hall monitors and allowing staff salaries to be in the top 25 percent of the county. Facilities would also see further improvements to infrastructure and safety/security.

With these goals in mind, board President Tom Diehl said Mehlville may not be as shy as it has in the past about asking voters to approve ballot measures.

“We are a community at a crossroads,” Diehl said. “For years and years, the Mehlville School District has not asked the community to support public education the way that it should. We should have been doing this (ballot measure) every few years like Webster does so that we can keep our students performing at the level where they can compete with other kids not only in St. Louis County, not only in Missouri, but across the country and around the world.”

To illustrate Mehlville’s gap with other districts, Fowler noted that Mehlville is 22nd out of St. Louis County’s 23 accredited school districts in per-pupil spending.

“If Mehlville wants to become a high-performing school district, it’s really about what you spend per student,” Fowler said. “That what it boils down to … We also know this. We are losing some of our very best teachers to other school districts …

“That’s not to say we’re left with bad teachers. We’ve got very good teachers. But they’re picking them off and they’re doing it at $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000 more a year. We’re losing, I know this is not a popular word in our community, but we’re losing a lot of administrators with principals and Central Office employees that have left and gone on to other school districts who are making a considerable amount more in money. So it is a concern.”

Meanwhile, officials vow to actively educate the community on all sides of Prop T.

Noble said the district would be willing to publicize efforts and events from any group for or even against Prop T.

At the very least, Schibig told those at the Beasley town-hall meeting that simply making residents aware of Prop T and Mehlville’s needs is the first step toward fulfilling the community’s wishes.

“You have an assignment,” Schibig told the audience. “What’s your assignment?

“Spread the word. We have a referendum coming up in November to get the ball rolling. It’s a non-tax increase — simply a transfer. We need to get the word out there for people to know this.”