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Concerned Patrons Of Rockwood: Mehlville Reps Provide Advice

In the second of a three-article series today, attendees at Sunday town hall meeting for Rockwood School District stakeholders were joined by patrons of the Mehlville School District who wanted to share their wisdom in dealing with district finances.

Sunday's town hall meeting by a grassroots' group called Concerned Patrons of Rockwood (CPR) included some interesting guests:  three residents of the Mehlville School District who attended to lend moral as well as hands-on support.

Mehlville representatives were among a group of activists who campaigned against an 88-cent tax increase in Mehlville that voters rejected in November.

About 35 participants attended the CPR meeting at in Wildwood. taxpayer and parent Dennis Broadbooks organized the meeting in reaction to districtwide concerns expressed from parents and residents regarding Rockwood's recent hiring practices and finances.

in Eureka-Wildwood Patch this morning.

Ken Meyer, a Mehlville resident, announced he was at the meeting to explain how local activists defeated a proposed 88-cent tax increase for the Mehlville district. He said it definitely can be done with a grassroots structure.

Meyer said activists were skeptical of a $75,000 survey they said the Mehlville district commissioned from UNICOM, which they believed was designed to support the need for a tax increase.

A second Mehlville representative at Sunday's meeting, Rich Franz, was a founding member of the anti-tax group dubbed Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association. Franz ran for, and won a seat on, the Mehlville school board in April.

Meyer said the Lindbergh School District passed a 65-cent tax increase during the same time the Mehlville situation was being addressed, because there was no organized opposition to it. Half went to teacher and administrator expenses and pay raises, he said.

He said district officials justified the increase by saying teachers and administrators were getting less take-home pay, and health insurance costs of their dependents went up. The other half of the increase was used to increase the district's reserves. "They will back at the trough soon," he said.

Meyer said they got the word out about tax increase concerns in Mehlville by first having a town hall meeting. "Five former school board members became involved, and we just hammered away."

He said he believed the CPR group's assessment of the Rockwood organization chart was a good start. "This chart looks bigger than the Pentagon's. It’s mind-boggling."

Attendee Rob Thoele, a Rockwood parent from Ballwin, asked Meyer what Mehlville district officials did when they didn’t get the money.

Meyer said teachers and staff didn’t get pay raises this past year. He said they also conducted a "wonderful survey," that interestingly enough, disguised the purpose as desperately needing to build a new middle school across the street from the high school. But, since the time that the tax increase failed, he said the new school project has not even come up on school board agenda.

He and Franz indicated employee numbers and costs decreased due to attrition.

Franz encouraged the Rockwood-related attendees to organize and focus. "We would love to see other community taxpayer association groups formed across the St. Louis region," he said.

Franz, , also told attendees to reach out to available media about the topic.

"Get in touch with your chambers of commerce, too" he said. "They are never going to publicly endorse you, but they are just as interested in controlling tax dollars. They will support you."

He then suggested the group find quality candidates to run for the school board. Two candidates from the association's members ran in the April school board election. Meyer said they interviewed all nine candidates, to see which ones they believed represented taxpayers. They endorsed two candidates, and he said both were elected.

Franz said he recently met Rockwood's board of education director Keith Kinder, who told him he had a doctorate's degree in educational leadership. "I was glad to hear that, because Rockwood would really be screwed up without things like that," he said.

"District officials are often arrogant, and typically believe that you owe them your money," said Franz. "Attack them head on."

A third Mehlville resident at the meeting, Greg Frigerio, said former Mehlville Superintendent Terry Noble was getting close to becoming one of the highest paid in Missouri at $186,000 base and a proposed $44,000 raise in 2010. Noble turned down the raise and has since retired.

"We need to put an end to the insanity. You are the owners of the district. Taxpayers keep the district going. Boards sometime forget that," he said.

He called the typical tactics used by districts "the educational cartel," or instilling fear that students are not going to get good education.

"The $24,000 per student invested by the city of St. Louis doesn’t guarantee an education, does it?" he posed.

Frigerio also said the common rationale for tax increases is to keep teachers in the district. "But teachers aren’t going anywhere. We researched it, and the average Missouri teachers' experience is 13 years. There's really nowhere for them to go, and there's a bunch of great young teachers just graduating who need jobs."

The Mehlville attendees indicated that they receive between 75 and 100 applicants for every teacher opening they have.

Attendee Chris Howard said his viewpoint is that some administrators could be spared, but that he didn't want to lose teachers.

Thoele, who has served on Rockwood's finance committee, said the district's teachers are making $55,000 to $57,000 annual salaries, on average, and $80,000 to $85,000 for the more experienced ones. "I don’t see them leaving, especially in this economy," he said.

"If they (teachers) are going to leave, they are going for their own good and don’t give a damn about kids. We don’t want them," shouted one attendee in the crowd.

Frigerio said his main concern is that 75 percent of the district's funds go to salaries, pensions and benefits. "This is no longer the '80s, and it's bull that districts can't be run like businesses."

"It’s your money; my eyes got open last year. The board couldn't care less about your money. Times are bad for everybody. Until you vote every tax increase down, it's just more money they get."

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Dale July 14, 2011 at 02:53 AM
If they didn't vote then they weren't in favor of tax increases any more than they were against them.
Dale July 14, 2011 at 03:21 AM
Liz since you are so good at replying to these comments please provide evidence of these "hurt students" & "impacted kids" damaged by grassroots efforts aimed at holding school districts accountable for how they run a school district and how they spend our tax money. I certainly hope you are not a teacher or school district employee whose work performance and attitude fluctuates depending on whether or not you get the raise you expect to get each and every year because if that is the case I feel sorry for the students in your district. Perhaps you are someone who has all the money you could possibly ever need and has never been laid off from a job. If so you are very lucky, there are many in the Rockwood District who are not as fortunate and these people want to know what $255 per hour got for their school district from the consultants. I actually know a teacher who told me they are glad the grassroots efforts are taking place because they want accountability from our superintendent. This person is a dedicated caring teacher and obviously does not agree with your comment about grassroots efforts impacting the kids more than a poor superintendent this person feels the superintendent is ruining the district.
Liz July 14, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Well, I work in a school but not for the district. I can tell you that my wages don't make or break our lifestyle. I can tell you that I am exceptionally dedicated to children. That said (and I'll ignore other character attacks from you from this point on....) budget cuts hurt kids. Anyone who thinks otherwise is totally delusional. As I already stated....your district is in an extremely different place than Mehlville. I can imagine people are upset about the consultant fees. Clearly they've upset you so much that the filter between your brain and your fingers has failed and you are attacking random comment posters. Examples of cuts that are designed to not hurt kids but end up impacting their education are ....delayed purchases of new curricula; delayed purchase of new technology (when a computer takes 6 minutes to boot up students lose that much instructional time waiting); delayed maintenance and repairs (students whose lockers get jammed miss class time over and over plus there's a teacher in the hall trying to unjam it and his/her class isn't getting instruction either); reduction in high quality professional development (the better the pd, the more it costs BUT the more it brings to the classroom....cut costs, get basic pd opportunities, get poor results from them); cutting supply budgets (sure kids should bring their own pencils but the don't...teachers spend more time acting as pencil librarians than teaching!); and finally library cuts.. all hurt kids.
Liz July 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM
Additionally, grassroots efforts often succeed. (In Mehlville, people believed what they wanted to believe...like the levy would go to give all principals raises or they were going to rename the school district or whatever got people fired up... it was really a lynch mob mentality.) Therefore cuts will need to be made that will impact kids. My original comment was meant to point out that these men were not representatives of the MSD. They worked to get some people out to vote but in south county, the levy would have probably failed anyway because people vote no on every tax levy ...no matter what. The last SSD levy only passed 51:49 in the same precincts. Too many parochial parents, too many retired people that do not want to support the school district. If that's your angle, I'm sorry for your district. If your angle is to really change the district, then you are going about it the wrong way here. Vocal, active parents at school board meetings, talking to board members, meeting with the superintendent CONSTANTLY to hold them accountable for spending and demanding that tax monies be spent on the children is a better way to achieve that. Your superintendent won't stick around for long if he has to defend every penny he allocates that doesn't go to books, teachers or programs. But sitting at home griping about consultant fees is not productive. Kids pick up on the mood and they'll lose respect for the people you complain about. You'll have problems. just saying :)
Eileen Tyrrell July 15, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Chris: I believe it is important to respond and bring some clarity to the last sentence of your statement below, "I welcome the debates offered by Dennis and Eileen, lets be sure to work in tandem if not in unison". "Eileen" is not offering any debates. The members of the Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions coalition are the persons offering up the debates. Yes, I am a co-founder of the coalition, but in no way am I working alone. The coalition is made up and supported by many RSD Stakeholders. Personally, I appreciate your interest in our school district, however I needed to address your misleading statement, because it leaves the public with an impression that RS for RS is just Eileen. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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