Big ideas in the works at Mehlville as 'action teams' offer proposals
March 02, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER
Big ideas are in the works at the Mehlville School District, including a multi-sports complex, interactive teacher Web sites, an educational center with child care, an after-hours high school and more.
The suggestions are part of a long list of ideas four district "action teams" presented last week to a Long Range Planning Committee charged with developing a Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.
The ideas are preliminary drafts only and are not solid recommendations.
"Some (ideas) will look like they're urgent, and I'm glad to see that be-cause we have a lot of urgent things to do," Superintendent Tim Ricker told the Long Range Planning Committee. "It also looks like they might be able to be worked on over time. In that we'll be able to have you as a group talk about and prioritize.
"But truly our opportunity is now," Ricker continued. "Some things are urgent. They can't wait another year."
More urgent matters could include academic performance. The district dropped 27 points on its 2004 Academic Performance Report from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Annual Per-formance Report details a school district's performance on Missouri School Improvement Plan performance measures and Missouri Assessment Program standards. The past two years, Mehlville had received a perfect 100, but the score fell to 73 in 2004.
The academic achievement action team presented several ideas to boost performance, particularly decreasing class sizes. Mehlville also should hire professional staff development trainers and log more staff development time, the team stated.
Currently, Mehlville offers roughly 17 hours of staff de-velopment per year compared to an average of about 31 years at neighboring districts, said action team member Nancy Williams.
Other academic achievement suggestions are:
• Eliminating bus crowding.
• Revamping staff evaluation policies.
• Establishing teacher Web sites along with an interactive district Web site with a Web master.
• Instituting teacher collaboration efforts.
• Offering teacher awareness and sensitivity training.
• Offering a "twilight school" so students may attend school after the normal hours if they choose.
• Having an educational center with a day care and pregnancy classes for teen-agers.
• Increasing after-hours tutoring.
To support academic achievement, the technology action team is considering:
• Increased funding for teacher training in technology.
• A technical support office at each school.
• Computer-based presentations in all classrooms.
• A teacher-mentoring program for technology.
• Up-to-date labs.
Such plans require more operational money, and retiring Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed recently told an action team that the district will need to slash $3 million from its operational budget next school year to maintain a 5 percent balance, or about $4 million.
The district cut 42 certified positions last year and may have to make deeper cuts this year. Reed suggested the finance team consider a tax-rate increase.
Last week, a "well-defined tax-rate increase" was one of the team's suggestions to the Long Range Planning Com-mittee along with an expansive effort to educate the community about the district's spending and revenue needs.
"The main focus of what we feel will be part of our action is to educate not only members of the community, but also members of the school district as to what our operating needs are and as to the historical perspective of the balances that the district maintains and the conservative way in which we spend money," said Sue Texier, finance action team co-facilitator and Forder Elementary School principal.
Other suggestions from the finance action team include:
• Hiring a district grant writer to solicit federal and private aid.
• Selling land and other "marketable assets" with the idea of corporate sponsorship.
• Lobbying state lawmakers to change the education-funding formula.
• Establishing a grant-writing council to secure aid.
• Sharing fixed costs with other school districts.
• Expanding the Cooperating School Districts program to pool cash and purchase expenses such as employee health insurance in bulk.
Outside of the operating fund, the facilities action team has large plans for capital improvement, including a multi-sports complex, new bleachers at the Mehlville Senior High School gymnasium, new grass turfs at the football fields, automated doors, drinking fountains for the disabled and more library space.
Those capital-improvement projects could not be covered by operating funds, but the district could seek to borrow up to about $177 million to fund capital improvements, Chief Financial Officer Randy Charles recently told the finance action team.
"There's a Missouri statute that identifies the amount of bonds a school district can issue and it's 15 percent of your assessed valuation," the assistant superintendent for finance said at an earlier meeting. "When you compare the amount we legally can issue minus what we have already issued, our remaining bond capacity is about $177 million ...
"It's kind of like you're pre-approved for a loan to buy a house that's $250,000 but we currently have a loan on a $45,000 house," said Charles, who becomes superintendent of the Hillsboro School District in July. "That kind of gives you the perspective of how much bond capacity we're not using."
Plus, Mehlville eventually will have about $11 million left over from Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. The cost is now $88.9 million, however. The district can collect the levy until the bond-like certificates used to fund the project are repaid, which is scheduled for 2022.
While Prop P's cost has jumped from $68.4 million to $88.9 million, Charles said the 49 cents will generate about $11 million more than needed to fund the projects. That money is not specifically dedicated, but can be used only for capital improvements, such as those suggested by the facilities action team.
The four action teams still are meeting and will make formal "action plans" to the Long Range Planning Com-mittee in March or April — a date hasn't been set.
The Long Range Planning Committee then will dissect the proposals to present a Comprehensive School Im-provement Plan to the Board of Education, which casts the binding vote on the plan.
At the end of the meeting, Ricker said, "Know that we trust what you're going to be bringing forward and we trust this group to do the right things for the kids and for our community. That's obviously why we've been stepping back and we've been listening. Because once we get a clear message from this group, from your group, then it's our role to make it happen."