Attendees at a grassroots gathering Sunday shared different concerns about spending levels, hiring practices and overall financial decisions made by Rockwood School District representatives. They also shared questions and skepticism about a Rockwood School District online survey available July 7 through today.
Today is the last day to complete the survey; click here.
The stated goal of the survey is "to learn more about people's attitudes concerning some important community issues." According to the district's Facebook page, 500 Rockwood patrons completed the same survey via telephone in June.
Recently, the word "concern" is being used frequently in relation to the district, even to the point that the group organizing the town hall meeting is entitled Concerned Patrons of Rockwood (CPR).
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.
in Eureka-Wildwood Patch.
One attendee said Rockwood is missing the boat when it comes to basing finances on comparisons to other districts and that district leaders "should cut the fat." He said he felt hiring consultants and then hiring them on as key administrators was the icing on the cake to prompt concern and outrage. "Until you tell the district no, what's it going to take—a couple hundred people to show up at a board meeting?"
Most attendees said they felt the online survey pushed takers toward a tax increase.
Rob Thoele, a graduate and now Ballwin resident, said, "They've (the board of education directors) already said they want a tax increase, they just haven’t confirmed how much," he said.
"This survey is a total sell job. It alluded to this is what we’ve done, here's what we already cut, don’t you want the best for your child? Thinking about it again, won’t you give us the money?"
He also said he thought placing information on the survey about whether financing will come from state sources is a scare tactic. "Under 20 percent of the district's budget comes from the state, and it mainly goes to transportation. Given the economy, I don’t see this getting any better."
Jen Ennenbach, who stated she had attended Rockwood PSO (Parent Staff Organization) meetings and volunteered in Rockwood schools, said she walked away from being supportive of the district because "those people are insane."
"The PSOs are run by insecure, control freaks who have meetings just so they can make 'a principal and president show.' When it comes to budgets, they act like it's free money, so you have to vote for it," said Ennenbach.
"And they wanted votes to be unanimous. What do they think? That money poops into reality?"
She said she felt so many parents "seriously don’t get it."
Ennenbach pointed out examples of what she considers wastes of district money and resources, such as the desegregation program, which she called "an outright failure."
"Yet they continue to run it," she said.
They're taking all of us to the point where we’re just done, she concluded.
Rockwood board of education director Steve Banton took the floor when attendees began to ask questions about whether school board candidates ever have run with opposition. He said it's been a few years ago, but there was no official election held because there was not more than one candidate for the open seats. He said that saves the cost of a $50,000 election.
One attendee then asked Banton if he can express his opinions, or if the code of ethics prevents him. The person shouted "You work for us, but you are not allowed to speak out, except for the official party line."
"Are we out of line in being perturbed?" asked another attendee to Banton.
His response is that the directors always "do the most they can to promote student achievement."
He defended the board's hiring of Superintendent Bruce Borchers, pointing out that they looked at a lot of candidates. "In Missouri, we're missing a system for assessing whether kids are learning. Not every superintendent candidate would want to come here," he said.
"One of the reasons we are excited about Dr. Borchers is that he promised to establish a Dashboard system for Rockwood so we're able to see whether students are learning."
Banton said the new assessment system would be able to tell in objective ways if a problem is stemming from a teacher, or a child's learning style.
The same attendee told Banton he thought the board's approval of Borcher's decisions "smacked of rubber stamping, at best."
"I question the decisions I’ve seen. What was the work product of the consultants? Where's the transparency? I'd like to have an open meeting and bridge beyond cryptic answers."
Thoele asked Banton about the perception of using $60,000 on consultants—"didn’t it concern you?"
Banton said the directors believe Borchers was "handicapped" with fewer administrative colleagues after they deliberately did not fill certain key positions when former superintendent Craig Larson retired.
Ron Cawood, a banker of 32 years who lives in Chesterfield, said he thought the Rockwood system was totally broken, just like the federal system. "We're getting taxed out of our houses. And we're in the eye of the hurricane. It's about to hit us on the other side."
One Rockwood parent, Chris Howard, suggested that Rockwood clearly has a reality problem and a disconnect. "Our school district model is operating on an old reality that doesn’t exist anymore. As we go down this road, I think it’s in your best interest to have some listening sessions."
Attendee Dale Redhage, who said he was a Rockwood taxpayer, but didn't have any children quite into the schools yet, referenced the payout to consultants of $30,000 for 17 days of work.
"This is not a competition to see who can pay consultants the most. This is about the education of our children. It turns my stomach. There are 10 people in Rockwood's communications department. Having a principal and vice principal for every grade level at every Rockwood school is insanity," he said.
Redhage said Rockwood teachers are afraid to come forward. "You said Borchers is about continuous improvemet, but teachers are saying it's change just for the sake of change. They aren't being listened to," he said.
"Everybody doesn’t respect them (new key administrators). I think Borchers needs to be held accountable. He started axing people and hiring his friends. It's ridiculous. You hired a guy who has never been a superintendent," he said.
Thoele summed up that "things have to change once you're in a hole." And Cawood added, "And you have to stop digging."