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Mehlville planning panel recommends 50- or 75-cent tax-rate hike

October 12, 2005 - By LAURA UHLMANSIEK

Staff Reporter

A 50- or 75-cent operational tax-rate increase is being recommended to the Mehlville Board of Education to fund a revised Comprehensive School Improvement Plan proposed by a district planning committee.

The Long Range Planning Committee is scheduled to pre-sent its revised Comprehensive School Improvement Plan to the Board of Education at 7 p.m. today — Oct. 13 — at Wohlwend Elementary School, 5966 Telegraph Road.

Committee members last week presented their revised comprehensive school improvement plan during two forums. Committee members said the recommended operational tax-rate increase would not be used to fund capital improvements, but would be used to purchase textbooks, replace buses, lower class sizes, retain staff and improve technology in the school district.

"This wasn't a wish list that said: 'Oh it would be great if we had a great drama center just because,'" Deb Yost, committee co-chair, said during the Oct. 3 forum. "When you guys mark Mehlville and every other jurisdiction, what do they have, what do we have, there are some things that I think the community will support. We are fal-ling behind in some of these things."

The Long Range Planning Committee was established last fall to propose revisions to the district's Comprehensive School Improvement Plan for the Board of Educa-tion to consider. The 25-member panel is comprised of district employees, a retired teacher, students and parents. Nearly 300 community volunteers who served on 14 "action teams'' assisted the committee in formulating its recommendations.

The committee has compiled a list of academic, technological and facility strategies to meet its objective of having 100 percent of the district's students achieve proficiency on the state assessment, graduate and pursue post-secondary education or career training.

Some of the academic achievement strategies the panel recommends include implementing early interventions to make sure students perform at or above their grade level, providing resources and training to teachers to increase effectiveness, providing a comprehensive counseling program and developing an awareness and understanding of students with varying abilities.

The technological strategies include im-proving teacher effectiveness with technological resources and training, improving communication channels with a technology task force to evaluate progress and establishing a partnership between the school and community by publishing the Mehlville Messenger monthly instead of quarterly and creating a district Web site that can receive feedback from district stakeholders.

The plan also includes strategies that are designed to improve the district's relationship with the community by establishing a united school and community partnership and improving communication channels be-tween students, faculty and the community.

"I think at least for the Long Range Committee, we wanted to be very open and honest about what we found and why we've come up with the strategies that we've come up with," Yost said. "So we really want to make sure that we're getting support from the community, that this isn't some behind-the-closed door, where did you come up with this, and is this the administrators or the teachers that are hitting on this long-range planning. No, this is very much a process of community members and really looking at the action teams to do a lot of this work.''

Committee member Carl Arizpe said the panel is recommending the 50-cent and 75-cent tax-rate increases as options to finance the plan. The district's tax rate, including 34 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for debt service, is currently $3.5893 for residential property, $3.6112 for commercial property, $4.0930 for agricultural property and $3.9678 for personal property.

A 50-cent tax-rate increase, if approved by voters, would generate roughly $7.5 million. As proposed, the 50 cents would be used as follows: 5 cents for textbooks, 4.2 cents for lower class sizes, 2 cents for bus replacement, 15 cents to attract and retain high quality staff, 17.2 cents to replace lost Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. revenue from the 2006 to 2009 school years and 6.6 cents for inflation.

A 75-cent tax-rate increase, if approved, would generate an estimated $11.2 million. As proposed, the 75 cents would be used as follows: 5 cents for textbooks, 4.8 cents for lower class sizes, 4 cents for bus replacement, 26.6 cents to attract and retain high quality staff, 17.2 cents to replace lost VICC revenue from the 2006 to 2009 school years, 6.6 cents for inflation, 7.5 cents for technology replacement and technical support staff and 3.3 cents for instructional supplies.

"We are in the lower 25 percent of the taxing community compared to other districts within our area, but we're producing kids at the 65 and 70 percent level compared to state averages in all our testing," Arizpe said. "So what does that tell us, we're getting excellent return on our investment, but are we going to continue to keep that level going? No, I think we all want our target to be better than that. We have a little bit of a train wreck occurring — I don't want to call it a train wreck — we have a deficiency of dollars coming in, and we have an awful lot of improving to do to catch up."

The committee's plan also includes de-veloping a multifaceted financial program that would pursue various funding opportunities, such as forming a grant council to research and apply for grants, communicating to the public the district's needs, establishing an endowment fund and examining the possibility of sharing services with other districts.

The plan also includes conducting a professional facilities study that would assess the possibility of capital improvement projects, including constructing fine arts facilities at both high schools, upgrading athletic facilities and increasing practice and game space.

"What we discovered was there are no fine arts facilities in either of our high schools, and we have the smallest amount of game and practice fields in comparison to other districts," Arizpe said.

Committee members also discussed the need to continue to survey the district's progress after the board makes its decision.

"We are not going to let this fall behind or we will be in some very poor shape," Yost said.

A motion by Board of Education member Karl Frank Jr. to dissolve the Long Range Planning Committee died for lack of a second Sept. 27.

While administrators have described the membership of the committee as a cross-section of the community, Frank previously said he doesn't believe the panel is representative of the entire community.

"There's no clergy. There's no private school parents. There's no business owners. There's no senior citizens. There are so many people that are missing from this process and what we basically have ended up with I think is a failed attempt at a community engagement process. It doesn't compare at all to the thousands of people that we had when we tried to initially get Proposition P passed,'' Frank had said, referring to the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities in which more than 3,000 people participated.

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