Town-hall meetings for COMPASS start this month at Mehlville schools

District’s vision to be shared at town-hall meetings

By BURKE WASSON

As the Mehlville Board of Education last week officially adopted recommendations from the district’s public-engagement program as its vision, officials also want residents to better understand those goals.

The co-chairs of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — will sponsor a series of town-hall meetings in September and October at various district schools.

COMPASS Facilitating Team co-chairs Dan Fowler and Jim Schibig will serve as hosts of the meetings in conjunction with Mehlville Board of Education President Tom Diehl and one or two board members.

The Facilitating Team, comprised of residents, employees, board members and students, whittled recommendations gathered at a series of public-engagement sessions into final goals for the district.

Members of the district’s Facilities Planning Team also will be present to further explain the group’s long-term recommendations for work to be done at each building in the district. Besides outlining the Facilitating Team’s long-term recommendations, officials will answer specific questions from residents.

The team’s long-range plan includes such programs and services as all-day kindergarten, early childhood expansion, English Language Learner teachers, counselors and elementary remedial reading teachers and boosting staff salaries so they would “become equal to the county average.”

Also proposed are technology improvements, safety and security enhancements and the replacement of buses.

In June, the Facilitating Team recommended two ballot measures for this November to the school board — a transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the debt-service fund to the operating fund and a 37-cent tax-rate increase.

After viewing survey results of 400 residents compiled in July by consultant UNICOM•ARC, the board voted to place the transfer issue on the ballot as 64.8 percent of respondents said they would favor it.

That ballot issue, Proposition T, will be decided by voters in the Nov. 4 election.

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

Superintendent Terry Noble has said Prop T primarily would be used to maintain 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 would likely be done with funds from Prop T.

Because 49 percent of survey respondents opposed a 37-cent tax-rate increase, board members decided not to pursue that increase in the November election. And to improve survey results that showed only 30.3 percent of participants were familiar with COMPASS while 69 percent were not familiar with the public-engagement program, Fowler told the board last week that town-hall meetings are necessary.

“We would like to take COMPASS on the road and do town-hall meetings,” Fowler said. “We would like to visit all the elementary schools. In fact, we’d like to visit every school in our community and take it on the road with Mr. Schibig and myself in conjunction or as a partnership with the Board of Education with the board president, Mr. Diehl, and maybe one or two other board members to go with us …

“One of the things that the survey clearly indicated was that COMPASS still has a lot of work to do with informing our parents and our community of what COMPASS is all about and what it entails. And we think that town-hall meetings would be a good forum to do that.”

Fowler also emphasized that the town-hall meetings would in no way promote or campaign for Prop T and that they strictly would be informational.

Noble said now that the school board has voted to accept the COMPASS recommendations as the district’s “shared vision,” he believes it is imperative that those involved do more to reach the community.

“This community survey that we took indicated that the majority of our patrons aren’t that familiar with the COMPASS recommendation, which is now officially the shared vision of the school district,” he said. “The board approved that. So the desire is for our patrons to be better informed. The purpose of the town-hall meetings would be for the COMPASS co-chairs and possibly some members of the Facilitating Team to meet the public at their school’s site and share the COMPASS recommendation or our newly formed vision with the public and answer any questions they may have.

“What Dan indicated is he would like to really focus the presentation on what the recommendations holds for that particular school building once it’s realized.”

Besides approving the COMPASS recommendations, the board voted at a special Aug. 27 meeting to revise a previously approved resolution in favor of Prop T to match its ballot language, which states:

“For school purposes, including implementing building and instructional improvements recommended by the community participants of COMPASS, shall the Mehlville R-9 School District, St. Louis County, Mo., be authorized to establish its operating levy ceiling — per $100 assessed valuation — at $3.1114 for residential real property, $3.2252 for commercial real property, $4.0600 for agricultural real property and $3.9348 for personal property? Approval of this proposition is expected to result in no increase to the estimated total tax levy of the district, due to an expected decrease in the debt-service levy that will offset the estimated 31-cent increase in the operating levy.”

Fowler told the board Aug. 25 that despite the fact that roughly half of survey respondents were opposed to a 37-cent tax-rate increase to fund COMPASS recommendations, the board can rest knowing it made the right decision to only put the transfer issue on the ballot.

“If you take into consideration some of the news coming out of Mehlville and the economy that’s going on, I think we did quite well,” he said. “The problem that we had with running a tax levy in November was that when you have 49 percent saying ‘no,’ you have to run an absolutely flawless campaign. And I believe, and I know that you were pushing me … to go for it, I felt that ultimately in the end without doing a little bit more educating our community, we would have lost. And when we go, I believe we have to have a legitimate chance of passing it. When you get your parents, your community and you raise a hundred-thousand dollars to run a campaign — and that’s what it’s going to take — you want to go for a winner. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t work on losers. When we go, we’re going to go for a winner.”

District officials have yet to schedule the dates of the upcoming town-hall meetings.