Rockwood School District's "Picture Rockwood" Facilitating Committee members huddled with back-to-back groups Wednesday evening to convey the status of a recent series of community engagement workshops, and to address new questions.
With the Jan. 22 deadline to place a tax proposal on the April 2, 2013, ballot looming, they told Patch they realize there is not a lot of time to help others understand this engagement process. But they also said they are committed to reaching as many people as possible, and that they hope the majority of district residents will participate in this next feedback phase before they make a presentation to the Rockwood Board of Education directors on Jan. 10.
Picture Rockwood focuses on a state-of-the-district recap that covers six major areas:
- student performance
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Wednesday evening's conversation of committee representatives with Rockwood's high school journalists included an explanation of the eventual costs of "deferred maintenance" as explained by committee member Stuart Lindley. "When you decide to put off what needs to be done, eventually you still have to do it," he said.
Lindley is referring to the maintenance needed for the 36 Rockwood buildings representing 3.65 million square feet of structures plus parking lots. The district spans 683 acres of ground spread over 150 square miles.
Picture Rockwood Community Chairs are Park Plank for Eureka High School, Jen Thomas for Lafayette High School, Chris Hageman for Rockwood Summit High School and Shemain Kenney for Marquette High School. The 20-member committee consists of parents, community residents, district administrators and staff from all four of the district's high school feeder patterns.
"A lot of people are putting forth a lot of effort. There is a tremendous amount of work going into this so that your education level is the best it can be," Chris Hageman explained to the student journalists.
Committee representatives said earlier this week they had met with the mayors of Wildwood, Eureka, Chesterfield and Clarkson Valley. They said they also addressed Ellisville City Council members, as well as the Chesterfield Kwanis Club and some PTO groups. They plan to soon meet with the Lafayette High Band Booster members, in addition to Eureka and Fenton chambers of commerce members.
No matter if a tax increase gets passed or not, Jen Thomas said it is imperative to remember this effort is a continual work in process. "Things are still evolving, and we expect them to, based on more people's input, all the way up to when we make a final presentation," she said.
She said she didn't think it realistic to get down to only one "picture" of the district. "In fact, three pictures are still in play: One with the current situation of budget reductions, and the two other scenarios called Apple and Orange. Our ultimate recommendation likely will continue to be adjusted as we move through December."
Park Plank said one of the most reoccurring questions from groups that didn't attend the engagement workshops is about from where the Picture Rockwood process started. "They reference that a bond didn't pass (Proposition R in April 2012) and want to know what's going to be done to address the cuts outlined," he said.
Plank said what many people don't know, or perhaps don't remember, is that Rockwood managers already have cut $22 million from the district's budgets over the past five years. "We now talk more about that previous, itemized list of elements that have had to be cut."
He said most people find the biggest surprise to be they just didn't know this was Rockwood's current situation.
Thomas said many with whom they just met this week are eager to get information, and are "taking it home to digest."
"We have found ourselves re-educating others, and making them aware of our current reality," said Hageman.
The committee's co-chairs also place a significant amount of importance on the feedback they will receive at the final two engagement workshops on Jan. 7.
"This isn't the district's first attempt to share information about its financial circumstances," said Thomas. "But everyone appreciates the need to make a more concerted effort to share the details."
Plank said he wants as many people as possible to know what the engagement process has been and continues to be. "But what you see as the pictures are not meant to be exact action plans."
"We still plea to everyone to take ownership of our district. You are parents, taxpayers or residents of this district, " said Shemain Kenney.
"This is not 'their' district," agreed Hageman. "It's not the district of the teachers, or the board of education. It's up to everyone to get involved. We've realized one of the things the board hasn't done a great job of is communicating the status of the district. Where we are is a bit eye-awakening."
Kenney said they, as parents within the district, have had no hidden agendas. "We've definitely added feedback people have wanted during this process."
Committee member Larry Feuerstein said they need more people to step forward and take ownership of shaping the district's future, instead of complaining in the background. "The workshops have been good, but they are a small sample of the total who live in this district. There's still a significant number who haven't participated, yet they will go to the polls and vote," he said.
Feuerstein said he also is getting questions about the leadership of any proposed tax increase proposal, and "who will sell it (to voters) this time."