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Rockwood School Board Candidates Talk Budget Issues at Forum

All but one of the six candidates said they would favor a tax increase, if necessary, to close what could be a $16 million budget gap.

A predicted multimillion dollar shortfall was on everyone’s mind at a Tuesday night.

Though only a handful of the 11 questions asked of the candidates dealt specifically with money, candidates frequently referenced funding in discussions on the district’s gifted program, the voluntary transfer program that allows students from St. Louis City to attend Rockwood schools and more.

That’s what voters in attendance were expecting. About 70 people attended the forum at , which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Laura Bradford, an attendance secretary at , said maintaining a quality education for students that’s fiscally responsible is the most important issue facing any of the six board candidates.

The district predicts an $8 to $16 million deficit in the 2012-13 fiscal year, depending on state funding cuts and the health of the economy.

“We’re at such a pivotal point in our history,” Eureka High School teacher Theresa Long said. She added that she attended the forum to learn more about the candidates so she could have informed conversations with her neighbors and friends.

“I was listening for someone with a good mind and a good heart to make those tough decisions (about the budget),” Long said. She added that she was pleased that many of the candidates’ answers when it came the budget weren’t hard and fast, but instead left room for flexibility based on the uncertain circumstances the district might face.

Some voters said not all their questions were answered at the forum. Several said more details were needed about potential cuts.

“Something’s gotta go, and I didn’t hear anyone say they would let go of anything,” Bradford said. 

Six candidates are vying for three, three-year positions on the board. The candidates are:

  • Keith Kinder, a former Rockwood high school principal and current assistant professor of education at Maryville University
  • Stephen Smith, an incumbent and former administrator at Saint Louis University School of Law
  • Roger Stock, a former principal of Chesterfield Elementary School and recently retired district administrator
  • Kevin Mabie, an English teacher in the Parkway School District
  • Matt Doell, an engineer
  • Mike Geller, a political consultant

Here’s what they had to say about budget issues:

Potential Tax Increase

When asked if they would support a tax increase in order to close the budget shortfall, most said yes. The district . The Board of Education will have to decide by Aug. 29 whether to put any tax referendum on the November ballot. 

“I’ve yet to run into a parent who says cut the programs back because I want as little as possible for my child. Every parent I’ve ever talked to always wants the best for his or her child,” Stock said. 

Mabie, Doell, Kinder and Smith also said they would support a tax increase if one was necessary. Geller said he would not. A tax increase, he said, would take money out of the economy.

Guiding Change process

All of the candidates said they approved of the district’s Guiding Change process, which aims to involve the community in budget planning for future years. Most said the process has been transparent and expressed support for Superintendent Bruce Borchers, who is spearheading the program.

“I think it does a good job,” Doell said. “It outlines what the choices are going to be, what the consequences of those choices are and then moves forward.”

All agreed that it was important for the community to be involved in budget decisions. Smith said the Guiding Change process is a great start and, like everything in the district, will need to be continuously improved as it progresses.

Gellar expressed support for the process, but added that he’s heard from some community members that that don’t feel they have had enough input in the budgeting process.

Accepting Federal Funds

The candidates were also asked their thoughts on accepting federal funds, such as money from the Race to the Top program, if it comes with strings attached. The federal grant program gives money to schools, providing schools implement certain reforms, which can include raising academic standards or using data to better track student achievement.

Most of the candidates said any funding comes with strings attached.

“Anytime you get money, whether it’s from the federal government, from the state or from local taxpayers, there’s always strings attached,” Kinder said.

Kinder, Smith, Stock and Mabie all said the “strings” should be reviewed, and if it’s determined the money would help the district and benefit students, it should be accepted.

Geller said he wouldn’t accept the funding. He said that he was concerned that accepting strings would reduce local control of schools.

If it weren’t the budget, it’d be…

When the candidates were asked to look beyond the budget crisis and identify the next biggest issue facing Rockwood schools, most emphasized continuously improving the district.

“We can all become complacent pretty easily, and I think we have to concentrate our efforts in remaining at the top,” Smith said.

Several of the candidates said the way to do that is to focus on curriculum. Mabie, Geller and Kinder all said that the curriculum needs to be effectively taught and go beyond what’s deemed necessary by the state to ensure students can compete nationally and globally.

Stock said emphasizing professional development is the way to continuously improve the district. “The only way our children can grow is if our staff grows,” he said.

Doell said it was important that the schools operate as a team. He added that he was concerned that pending state legislation that impacts how much money the district receives could threaten the team atmosphere.

Kinder also said that maintaining the school buildings was a top priority.

Editor's note: Ballwin-Ellisville Patch will follow up with several stories about the candidates' responses to other forum questions and will also run candidates' written responses to five questions before the April 5 election.

Robert George March 09, 2011 at 07:47 PM
The quality of public education in Rockwood is directly related to my property value. If the schools begin to suffer so will my property value. Rockwood 'has' been a quality district. It is important to keep it that way even if it means a modest increase in the tax rate. My property value will decline if we allow the quality of education to decline.
Suzanne March 09, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Geller made some scary/strange comments. Like this comment about teacher tenure, "When you don't fear losing your job you become complacent." REALLY?! Fear as a motivator--that will really make us work harder (as if we aren't working hard enough already...) Have you checked Rockwood's status lately Mr. Geller? Obviously Rockwood teacher's are doing SOMETHING right, otherwise would we wouldn't be as highly regarded as we are. A school district's "main consumer is the taxpayer." Wrong again Mr. Geller, our "main consumer" is our STUDENTS--which we focus on both in and out of the classroom. One more, when Mr. Kinder talked about the right for a free and public education, Geller said the he had "heard a lot" of misinformation about about the Constitution, and that a free, public education was NOT a right, yet the right to a free public education is found in the various state constitutions and not in the federal constitution. Every state has a provision in its constitution, commonly called the "education article," that guarantees some form of free public education, usually through the twelfth grade. Strike three, Mr. Geller. I hope the Rockwood voters recognize you for what you are--you are NOT a friend of public education, and I believe you have some hidden agenda that is yet to be revealed.
Laura Gigliotti March 10, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Finally...two people that make sense!!! Spread the word!!!
Jen March 10, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Couple disturbing things about this article. . .as well as Suzanne's statements: I do believe Geller is running on the principle that he is a *parent* who sees many, many things WRONG with Rockwood School District. As a mother of 2 in the District, I, along with many other parents, are tired of fighting teachers who have no business teaching anymore, hiding behind the union, as well as the Principals and District Administrators who are more interested in covering their arses than advocating for the children. And just what is so wrong with a teacher fearing loosing their job? I get that many teachers work hard...there are many, though, who do not. Again, they hide behind the union. Guess what, if I slack off at work, you know what happens? I LOSE MY JOB! Geller was right...and I noticed he is the ONLY candidate who has not taken money from the NEA. What does that tell you? He is the only candidate NOT bought off by the unions! As far as misinformation about the Constitution, um, NO WHERE in the Constitution is the "right" to free public education. I would go so far as to say let's stop the socialism, and make the education a directly funded institution. Granny can retire more comfortably, the newlyweds can start saving for their first house, and I can take the 2/3 of the taxes I pay annually into the educational system and put my kids in the best private school out there. THAT would get some attention. Shall we talk about the P20 Longitudinal Data System next?
Jen March 10, 2011 at 05:21 PM
Oh, and we are tired of the wasteful spending that in no way advocates for the children, as well as our children being tested to death for the sake of a grab at more $ for the schools as well. Just a thought, Mr. Fox!
Eileen Tyrrell March 11, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Via Lisa Hunt from Eureka-Wildwood Patch.com The phrase" It Takes a Village to Raise a Child" has been replaced by the all powerful Oz. Many parents feel like the Cowardly Lion when dealing with RSD. Middle school Language Arts and Science Class keep their books at school. How are we as a parents supposed to help our child when there are no books allowed to come home? The math books give no examples, and since most of us didn't take Everyday Math it becomes frustrating trying to help. Who made the decision that Sustained Silent Reading, Smart-boards, Everyday Math, and computers were the best way to teach our children? Who approved costly new curriculum? How do 6 principles and nine office staff at one school help my child become a better student? What are the 15 job listings for Content Facilitator and 10 jobs listings for administrator positions on RSD. ? It's not that we dislike RSD, it's just some parents feel left out of the process on how the money gets spent along with how are children will be taught. RSD needs to take all measures possible to reduce their in-house costs before passing it on to the already burdened tax payers. On a lighter note...if your 40+ years and can read this post, multiply 9x9 it proves reading Dick and Jane, and rote memorization worked........great teacher+book+chalk+paper+pencil= Us
Eileen Tyrrell March 11, 2011 at 06:23 AM
This is an email I received from Kim Cranston, Communications Director of RSD, in reply to my question regarding the cost of holding an election for a tax increase. I share; you decide. Hi, Eileen, I received your voice mail message with your question about election costs. At this point, we don’t know the exact cost to put an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot. Because this would be a special election, we don’t know what other groups may be placing something on the ballot. Aug. 30 is the deadline for submitting election forms for certification for the Nov. 8 Special Election. According to the St. Louis County Election Commission, the cost for the election would be around $160,000. If other initiatives are on the ballot, Rockwood would share that cost with other organizations. If no other initiatives are on the ballot in Jefferson County, St. Louis County will manage the entire election, including the 1,760 Rockwood voters who reside in Jefferson County. The charge for this would be included in the original $160,000 estimate. If other initiatives are on the ballot in Jefferson County, the county will charge approximately $20,000 to cover the cost of the three polling places in Jefferson County. Hope this helps! Kim
Tired of waste March 11, 2011 at 07:38 AM
Why is it that RSD spend $2-3000 per smartboard in every classroom in every school in the last few years because they had to keep pace with other schools and now the teachers at Marquette are disconnecting them or cursing at them in front of students because they either don't work or they are not helpfull to the teaching. Wow if we had even some of that money back we wouldn't need a tax increase. Ask your child if his teacher is using their smart board on a daily basis or even if it is plugged in? This, I am sure, is just the tip of the iceberg of wastefull spending in the district.
Suzanne March 11, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Just to clear up some inaccuracies in your statement: Directly from the Missouri Constitution: Free public schools--age limit. Section 1(a). A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law. Source: Const. of 1875, Art. XI, §§ 1, 3. (Amended August 3, 1976) And by the way, the NEA did NOT give money to all of the other candidates except Geller. Another thought, Rockwood teachers work hard; I don't know if you've looked at the test scores lately, our kids' scores are among the highest in the state, we beat the state average on ACT scores, our four high schools are on the Newsweeks Top 1000 Schools list, etc. etc. "Slacking off" is not an option in Rockwood. Rockwood teachers don't "hide behind the union"--we don't have to. When there IS a teacher who proves sub-standard he/she is booted--the union just makes sure that due-process is followed. Teachers don't want bad teachers in the classroom any more than parents do. If you don't like Rockwood as much as it seems: move. I suspect, however, you moved to Rockwood BECAUSE of the education--that's a large reason why MOST people move here. Finally, "losing" is spelled "losing," not "loosing."
william eggers March 13, 2011 at 03:43 AM
Bill Mr. Geller seems to think that "control of the schools should be returned to the parent and the taxpayer". What a novel idea in this union controlled environment. This is the same idea that drove me when I was a member and president of the Parkway School Board some years ago. I saw from the inside the self interest of the NEA that controlled the schools.
Paige March 18, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Paula Thank you so much for this information. I find it amazing that people who not send their kids to public schools want to be on school boards. I don't come to you church to be a part of the decision-making group if I don't attend that church. It would be ludicrous. My children will be in a Rockwood classroom next year. I want a board member whose child is sitting next to mine, not down the street in a private school!!!
Chase Castle March 18, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Readers: An important part of our site is political dialogue, but I need to remind everyone of two things: We reserve the right do delete, disable or otherwise moderate commenting at will. In the same way that a resident cannot walk into city hall (or the grocery store, for that matter) and begin yelling at people at the top of their lungs, there are limits on what can be said in the comments section of a privately owned news site. Related to that point, please keep all comments directed at specific issues, and not at specific people. Yes, you can engage in dialogue with people on the site, whether they are other commenters, or people cited in stories. But at the core of this dialogue should be issues, not ad hominem or shots at family, health or other personal issues. If you have questions or concerns about this, I encourage you to e-mail me. chase.castle@patch.com
a teacher March 25, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Just a few random thoughts that keep frustrating my brain. 1. Why would anyone even question the right to an education? Who cares what the constitution says or does not say? I want all children to learn! It can only benefit our future to continue affording them the best possible opportunities. Wow. Vouchers would only take away money from those that really need it. Taking away from the schools takes away from the children and ALL OF OUR FUTURES!
a teacher March 25, 2011 at 04:20 PM
2. @ Jen. I agree. Testing has changed our schools and not for the better. Teachers have been forced to teach for the sake of taking state and federally mandated tests. This was decided on by educators. I am so tired of these scores being used to compare us to other countries. Other countries do not take THESE tests, other countries do not test ALL children. They do not assess children living in poverty, children with mental diagnosis, children dying of cancer. THAT is who we are mandated to test! Please be very careful, because these are the same tests Mr. Gellar type folks would like you to believe can tell which teacher is working harder or deserves better pay!
a teacher March 25, 2011 at 04:27 PM
3. I am also so sad that people who are unaware of what teachers really do each day feel the need to say we are doing poorly. I don't understand why we are currently seeing such an upheaval in our respect for what I consider one of the most important vocations besides parenting. Other countries hold educators in very high esteem. Do people really think teachers chose their career for the money or the time off? Ha, if you know a teacher you know that we spend way more time working than our contract hours. We went into this for the kids! We love them! The only thing I can come up with is that we do need to fix some slacker parents and we cannot, so I guess we'll gang up in the teachers. (BTW. I have wonderful parents to the student sin my class! Thank you good parents, there are quite a lot of you out there and you are appreciated.)
a teacher March 25, 2011 at 04:35 PM
4. I guess since I am on a roll I will comment on the parent in Chesterfield earlier this school year that said teachers should buck up and pay it forward. I almost lost it that day! It' s alot easier to tell us to tighten our belts when your belts have more room to tighten. Most teachers are barely cutting it. What is there left to tighten.? That day I spent $35 on on overdraft fee because I didn't have enough to cover my purchases the night before of bubble bath and clean underwear for a student whose mother was not doing her job. No, I didn't have to do that and I did think I had enough to cover it , but you would be shocked how often teachers pay it forward in this manner. Shoes, clothes, hygiene items, etc. are part of our regular paying it forward. Also, you mentioned we should run the schools like a business. Well, they are not a business, and even if so, pay me for what I am worth. I spend more time with your child than you do! What is that worth to you?
a teacher March 25, 2011 at 04:40 PM
5. We have got to start thinking about how we treat our teachers and our schools. I am so scared that we are eventually going to start getting what we pay for. I have been teaching for 15 years and I still love it. (Although I am still trying to pay off my own college loans!) I love the kids and I love the teaching and my team mates. I work with new student teachers and I think, geez, get out before you are too far in. You will never break even or get ahead in this field and the future just keeps looking worse and worse.
a teacher March 25, 2011 at 04:45 PM
6. Mr. Geller have you ever watched 19 Kids and Counting, Michelle Duggar is a homeshcooling mama who preaches Intelligent Design. I am confused, is this your agenda? I want my own child who is a student in RSD to grow up and go to college. She wants to be a vet. I will teach her our religious values at home, but know RSD will prepare her to write about SCIENCE on her entrance exams, not refer to the Ark! (BTW did you know RSD's science scores are not only those of the best in the state but that of the country!? I am so proud of our science and social studies departments!
Ballwin Resident March 28, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Teahers fear everyday for their jobs. They know that there are more likely to be budgets cuts than growth and those cuts generally come in the form of staff (be it teachers/administrators/fron office, etc...). They also watch their classrooms grom from 16 students to 19 then to 20 and then to 24 and as parents we wonder why our childs teacher doesn't seem to know him/her like last years teacher did. I guess I am luckly as we have had nothing but nice things to say about the staff at my daughters RSD school. I believe a school boards job is to listen to the experts (teaches/admin, etc...) for what they need and then do their best to fins the funding. Our school boards should not be involved in writing curriculem, deciding which text book is better, what field trips are valuable, and so on. I leave that to the people that do that everyday and spent years in school. Who am I to tell a master's degree National Board Certified teacher which text book is better?
Lisa Thompson March 28, 2011 at 02:37 PM
I find some of the commentary regarding teachers in general astonishing. Someone is actually advocating that we go "back to the basics" and furnish students with a good teacher , chalkboard and rote memorization and that will be sufficient. I guess it would be if this weren't 2011. People wake up! We are preparing students for jobs that don't exist. It is no longer the day that students are competing for jobs with people from their state or even their own country. These students are growing up in a global society and they need to be computer literate, analyzers, thinkers and problem solvers. They can't count on their ability to memorize and follow directions. They need to be able to think outside that box and that preparation will not look anything like the preparation you received as a child if your are 40+. Teaching is a profession and unfortunately some people don't understand that fact. They believe anyone can do it. All you have to do is read some of these blogs to know that is not case.
Eileen Tyrrell March 28, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Applause to each and every person who accompany their opinion and commentary with a full name. Thank you for putting yourselves out there and not being afraid to stand up and speak out; whatever side of the issue you find yourselves. Sure it is easier and safer to hide behind a screen name,but those comments hold no weight and fall on deaf ears. It takes courage, character and a strong conviction to speak up and sign your name to personal commentary, opinions or suggestions; and our community needs those persons if we are going to be successful. Let us not render this Patch forum ineffective and useless, by not including our names with our comments. Thank you to Patch.com for their contribution to the StL area communities.
Ballwin Resident March 28, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Including your full name may be putting yourself out there. In this day and age is that always the safest? I have two small children at home and all I need is someone on the other side of an issue coming to "visit" me or my family at my home because they feel so strongly about their position or stongly disagree with mine. I almost used my name but thought better of it. Reading the comments and their tone is a much better way for me to judge their merit. To each there own.
Amy Siems April 01, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Totally valid point; BUT, SmartBoards are purchased with bond issue capital funds. Bond issue funds are not available for operating budget items (e.g., salaries, supplies, etc..). If the district had elected to not purchase SmartBoards, the bond issue amount requested would have been less - it would not have changed the operating budget. I LOVE my Smartboard and use it all day. I am getting ready right now to put up a live feed of a bald eagle nest. Yesterday we used it for reading poetry and manipulating spelling patterns. All our math units have matching slides. We Google Earthed our addresses and booked a trip to Japan on Expedia (didn't use my credit card), what a great up to the minute lesson on the culture and climate of the country. Research shows Interactive Whiteboards can positively impact student achievement and at least one not-for-profit survey shows it as the number one technology that teachers request, with laptops second. Many districts that are generally acknowledged as forward thinking in their technology purchases and integration have standardized on interactive whiteboards, teacher laptops, and student response systems... three items that the District Technology Committee agreed are key and included as part of our classroom standards. Again, all have been purchased with bond funds as opposed to operating budget funds. I truly hope that you don;t actually know a teacher who doesn;t have their board plugged in. Their students are truly missing out.
StLStan April 01, 2011 at 01:45 PM
For those who believe Rockwood "wastes" money and that teachers and administrators are overcompensated... two sites that are not-for-profit and provide data. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/01/educational_productivity/ (you'll want to go select MO and then scroll to Rockwood). Look at the criteria and ROI. http://www.dese.mo.gov/schooldata/school_data.html (you'll want to select Rockwood from the dropdown and then scroll through to look at the salary data). Do the same for other districts like Clayton and Ladue - districts that have high academic performance. And, check Parkway, a district that does not match Rockwood's academic performance. Bottom line - Rockwood provides an excellent value for our community... high achievement at a relatively low cost.
Suzanne April 01, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Thanks for all of the great comments! Here's one more thing that is never talked about--everyone thinks that teachers have a "free ride" when it comes to retirement and benefits. We are extremely lucky that our employer continues to pay for our personal medical insurance, and we are extremely lucky that our employer contributes to our dependent coverage. Why does that happen? Our school district knows that in the public sector people who hold advanced degrees and have as much experience as the average teacher in Rockwood would be making much more money than we are currently. As far as retirement: does anyone else pay 14.5% of their income toward their own retirement? I do. Once again, I trust in my retirement system to have the funds to manage the money that I have invested for my future. I will not get my own full social security benefits--even though I earned and paid them serving my country in the US Army Reserves and left my family and students to serve my country during the recent Iraq war. Our government passed laws in the late 1980s that will take away my social security benefits--apparently I don't "deserve" them since I'll be getting my teacher retirement--which is MY money that I invested in MY retirement. Yep, keep picking on teachers--pretty soon the only people who do the job will TRULY be the horrible, lazy, incompetent people that we are accused of being.
StLStan April 01, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Lisa - strongly agree. Can't imagine our realtors touting the "back to basics Rockwood" where kids will be able to utilize pencils and paper and a chalkboard in their classroom! Why wouldn't we want to provide an environment similar the what they will experience in higher ed or the workforce... and take advantage of the incredible learning opportunities provided by access to tech tools and resources? Kinda like all of this discussion using computers and a website... wouldn't this be fun trying to use pencils and paper, the postal service and newspapers for the public dissemination ;>)!
Robert George April 01, 2011 at 02:18 PM
I pay more income taxes than Bank of America, Exon and GE combined. This is what I call 'corporate greed' and yet it seems politically OK these days to pick on teachers. Wow, have we stooped so low in the country that we think corporate greed is to be held on a pedistal while we lambast teachers? I am grateful the Rockwood school district has had Board members who not only respect and honor teachers but really do care about the kids who go to our schools. I do not want a Board member who does not honor teachers and chooses to send the kids he actually has custody of to a wealthy, private school.
Suzanne April 01, 2011 at 02:23 PM
And one more thing: I taught for two years at a private school--interestingly enough, in private schools teachers don't have to be certified for the subject they teach. So, as a Language Arts teacher who is certified to teach 7-12 grade I taught English, religion, Missouri civics,and boy's gym. Some people think the answer is private schools--at least I think one person running for school board does since he sends the child who lives with him to a private school--I'm not so sure they are. And do we really want someone on the school board who doesn't support public education?
Ballwin Resident April 01, 2011 at 05:02 PM
I agree. I would have a very hard time electing someone to a school board when they choose to send their children elsewhere.

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