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New Rockwood Hires: Superintendent, Board Say Normal Steps Taken

Patch interviews Rockwood School District Superintendent Bruce Borchers, the district's chief communications officer and board of education president to verify facts, timing and considerations about new hires that created public controversy.

Filling two, key Rockwood School District administrator positions vacant since the 2009-2010 school year prompted a blip of public scrutiny and comments. Many questions surfaced after Rockwood Superintendent Bruce Borchers recently filled those positions with two colleagues he previously worked with in a Minnesota district prior to taking the Rockwood helm.

Critics, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan in a Wednesday piece, spotlighted that the same two professionals consulted for Rockwood this year, specifically assisting Borchers in planning the district's reorganization, which included the two jobs in question.

This afternoon in a Eureka-Wildwood Patch exclusive interview, Borchers maintained that the two professionals were the best suited for the tasks. Rockwood board of education president Steve Smith confirmed that school board directors were aware of Borcher's plans and actions throughout the process. Additionally, Rockwood communications and human resource executives verified the typical Rockwood hiring process definitely was followed in this matter.

So what steps led up to the issue now considered controversial by many?

Conflict of interest?

The context starts with former Rockwood Superintendent Craig Larson, who retired but suggested that the two positions not be filled for sake of enabling his replacement to assess what and who would best meet the district's needs. Actually, he and the board of directors agreed not to replace three positions:  associate superintendent, executive director of elementary education, and the executive director of secondary education.

Larson used consultants frequently, said Rockwood's chief communications officer Kim Cranston. "In fact, when Dr. Larson joined Rockwood, we were going through redistricting discussions, as well as the five year strategic planning process, and consultants were hired to assist with both efforts."

She said he and former superintendents hired colleagues with whom they had worked prior to Rockwood, so this recent incidence was not the first time 'familiar colleagues' had been added to the district's teams.

Nancy DuBois and Randy Smasal, previous co-workers with Borchers, accepted consulting contracts with Rockwood this school year while still employed full time in Minnesota, McClellan's article said. The two individuals then were given full-time positions with Rockwood as an "executive director of learning and support services" and as an "associate superintendent of learning," respectively.

Smith said the board of directors held a work session before Borchers was hired to build norms as an overall group, including outlining a "learning plan" for Borchers about who and what Rockwood is.

Borchers said board members told him his mission was to look for opportunities for Rockwood to get even better. He said his original goal and "entry plan" was all about listening to the people within the district and exploring all the great things occurring in it.

"I learned then, and continue to learn about the district every single day. What hasn’t come out while people are talking about Rockwood this week is that we have an excellent staff and board who have dealt in a very forthright way about these positions," said Borchers. "They just wanted me to have every opportunity to get aligned and focused on continuous improvement."

Cranston said it is critical to remember the positions being scrutinized already existed. "It's different than what is being portrayed, because we deliberately didn't fill them until now," she said. 

She and Borchers said the leadership and supervisory duties associated with the unfilled positions were divvied up while he learned about Rockwood. "Our immediate staff was inundated with handling additional responsibilities on top of their full-time jobs. They really didn't have the time to be able to help me with the reorganization," he said.

At the same time, the executive, or superintendent cabinet, team also handled the Guiding Change process, which caused additional pressures and time commitments regarding budget cuts.

Karen Sieber and Jim Ramsey were established as interim executive directors but Borchers said they had limited hours and certain projects to direct.

"Everyone was stretched to the max, including myself," said Borchers. So he said he engaged his former colleagues, who he believed had the skill sets and experience that would help him complete a presentation the directors expected in January.

Borchers said he definitely felt the pressure of how to place everything into a comprehensive presentation while at the same time incorporating everything he learned "on his journey."

Cranston said budget challenges started right away in September, further adding stress to an already stretched staff.

Borchers' retrospection

"I would have much rather focused on relationships, rather than immediately on things and processes," said Borchers. Starting with snow days, he said a series of tough decisions hasn’t allowed that, however.

"Relationships should be the primary focus, but given our time constraints, we needed some other people who could help to compare strategic ideas while we took care of the day-to-day," he said.

Cranston said community meetings and a series tour that included all Rockwood buildings during Borcher's first two months took the bulk of his time. "He missed many of his own childrens' events, while focusing on the district," she said. "He’s a band dad, for example, but constantly juggles time for the community and people, and it takes more than five or six months to cultivate deep relationships."

Consent agenda items

It was clear to board members Borchers couldn't do everything expected without some assistance, said Cranston.

She said they initiated the assistance and handling the amount of funding in an appropriate and allowed manner, as a consent agenda item.

Smith said perhaps a board member should have asked that this item be removed from the consent agenda. "No one did, and I have no access to their thinking on that. I did not, because the item made sense to me," he said.

"In response to the opportunity, I did tell them it would be nice to have an account with a limited amount of money that I could go to, if needed," Borchers said.

Open disclosure

Cranston said not only was it at the board’s suggestion that Borchers secure consultants, they "approved the contracts, and approved everything."

She said Rockwood's typical interview protocols were followed, including the involvement of parents and staff. Patch confirmed that Rockwood had 40 applicants for the associate superintendent job, and 53 applicants for the learning and support services role.

Smith said it does not seem strange to him that Borchers would pick people whose work he knew and who he trusted as consultants, who later became candidates.

Money reportedly saved

Borchers said only 24 percent, or $60,000, of the allocated $250,000 had been used  through May for consulting services. He then aligned with the consulting services of another acquaintance from Solution Tree, and devised a staff development plan based on what he believed the district needed.

"It's important to remember in the current restructure, that $70,000 was saved from passing over filling the jobs since the 2009-2010 structure," said Borchers.

He said another $180,000 will be saved over a year's time due to the new way he organized the team.

"We flipped the administrator/teacher ratio from this past school year of 17 administrators and eight teacher leaders to nine administrators and 17 teacher leaders now," said Borchers.

Cranston said a defined, strategic pay plan also was followed, and that the two newly hired professionals are making less than those who previously held the comparable roles two years ago.

At the end of the day, Borchers said all the effort is about how decisions impact the 22,000 Rockwood students. "It's difficult when you give your life for that, and it’s portrayed differently."

Cranston said approximately $90,000 of the entire $250,000 allocated for consultant services has not been spent or earmarked and will go back into the district's general operating funds.

Smith said the board did not have a specified way of determining the amount of money to set aside for consultants. "I think the amount came from wanting to have something limited but enough to do something with," he said.

Whatever direction Borchers guides the district toward, his own children also will be affected, in that his son just attended Ellisville Elementary and his daughter is a student.

One difference between the previous and current comparison cited by some Rockwood parents is that the district was not as strapped for cash two years ago. Some Patch readers indicate they want every available penny for the district to go toward supporting students in direct, rather than indirect, ways.

Ken Meyer July 12, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Good afternoon fellow patriot & Taxpayer of the Rockwood School District..... Its important you (the TAXPAYERS of Rockwood) take a firm stand against anymore Tax Increases in the School District as older people & younger families are losing their homes, and taking pay cuts and losing their jobs while our wonderful Board of Education and UNICOM continue to spend YOUR money like their is no tomorrow.....Tax Enough Already...."TEA PARTY Movement".....Please call for further details "Mehlville Community Taxpayers Ass'n"....Thanks Regards Ken Meyer 314-401-1657
Jennifer Green June 28, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Great point, Lisa. One thing that troubles me is while people think it is good to hire from within the district, it created layer upon layer of friends ("the good ol' boy system) who lie, report false information, and clearly show unequal treatment of teachers and students. When you go up a level, an old teacher friend turned administrator covers for the ones that need to be observed more or put on administrative leave while certain allegations need to be carefully examined. It seems as though as long as things go smoothly for the principals and administrators nothing is said or done even when grievances are filed. I find that to be very unethical and misleading. Even if the "chain of command" is followed by parents, nothing worthwhile gets done, and parents are looked down upon. The principal still has a moral and ethical duty to our students as role models but I am meeting more and more that only care about the paycheck and covering for each other.
Jeanna Benny August 02, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I'm reading all of these postings and this is why people get upset and need the funds to go directly to the children. This is the truth of what I am going to share with all of you. My son has a processing disorder. He has been on IEP's since the beginning of pre-school at 3.5 years old through kindergarten. The used to be state Phych. who represented Rockwood and the elementary school that my son attends dropped my son out of the IEP system for his first grade year due to improper testing that she gave him, and she also informed my husband and myself in front of 8 others in an IEP meeting that we were "JUST going to have to deal with him being an underacheiver" in his academics. Wow! Thank you Rockwood for wisely spending my tax money on some circle of consultants when what is really needed is the consulting needs to come from the parents and the teachers within the district. There could be other children like my son and families who are suffering and thrown away or lost like it is no big deal to help out with these issues. Instead, lets waste tax payer money and time on what the Board thinks are BIGGER issues? There is something wrong with all of this.
Julie Brown Patton August 02, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Jeanna Benny, so disappointed to think of any Rockwood students feeling under-represented.
Eileen Tyrrell August 03, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Jeanna: You are not ALONE. There are many in the Rockwood system who feel as you do. Out of respect, I will not refer you to the RS for RS website where you can read a recent article entitled "A Parent's Experience". Please feel free to contact me via email at eileenmtyrrell@gmail.com and I will direct you to the article. There is help for parents and students. Hope to hear from you. Eileen Tyrrell RS for RS Spokesperson Y

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