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Student Security, Buildings' Maintenance and Technology Top Rockwood Priorities

Will a no-tax rate increase bond issue for the Rockwood School District be placed on the April ballot? Thursday night, a bond amount of $36.6 million was suggested. Would it be supported by voters?

Four 'Picture Rockwood' co-chairs presented recommendations during Thursday's Board of Education directors' meeting, after a four-month community engagement process to hone in on Rockwood School District's future over the next decade and beyond. Their presentation was consistent with information covered in Monday's two community engagement sessions.

One change in the information provided at Thursday's directors' meeting was the amount of the proposed no-tax rate increase bond:  $36.6 million.

Read this week's Patch two-part series for background and details:

'Picture Rockwood' Feedback Summarized

'Picture Rockwood' Feedback to be Presented Thursday

Rockwood's directors said the bond figure is preliminary, and that they have more questions for Superintendent Bruce Borchers and staffers.

Rockwood's budget is not due to be finalized until June. However, should the board of education directors move forward with a bond issue for the April 2 ballot, language for April issues is due by Jan. 22 by the Board of Elections. Rockwood's directors will have to decide at their Jan. 17 board meeting if voters will be presented with a huge decision about the district's future.

Picture Rockwood co-chairs said the qualitative and quantitative feedback indicated the community-at-large is not ready to move forward with all of the district's stated priorities, but the current focus is on some of the priorities.

The co-chairs indicated qualitative data conveyed from the feedback forms, online survey and meetings revealed four key findings:

  1. Do not increase taxes; if a tax increase is proposed, it needs to be less than the amounts listed in the Apple and Orange pictures.
  2. Feedback forms indicated community residents would support a bond issue.
  3. Feedback forms and online survey results do not indicate general support for a no-cost, full-day kindergarten.
  4. District in district leadership is a recurring theme from all sources of feedback.

Susan Tiffany, a Ballwin resident, Marquette High School graduate and now Rockwood parent, said attending the recent Rockwood meeting for kindergarten-related parent was "bittersweet" because the room contained other moms who said Rockwood board of education directors "do not listen to their concerns."

She said other parents said when they submitted questions to Rockwood Superintendent Bruce Borchers, they got "snarky responses."

Tiffany also said she was concerned free kindergarten tuition will not be chosen, and that it represented doing "business as usual."

She said she was disappointed that free kindergarten wouldn't be available in Rockwood, because out of the 520 school districts in Missouri, only three have tuition-based kindergarten. "And Rockwood charges the highest, which is 24.5 percent more than Webster Groves' charges."

"This board and district is refusing younger students, because kids only can get full-day if their parents can pay," Tiffany said to the directors. "I implore you to join the other 517 districts. It's not fair to punish the youngest students. Think outside the box, and stop doing business as usual."

Eureka resident Bob George said he was a long-term resident of district who had worked for four decades in public education. He said he applauded the Picture Rockwood process.

George also said one of most important missions of any school district is to maintain quality facilities. "If we don’t do a bond issue, money is still required when things break down, and they (repair costs) will have to come out of the operating funds."

"All of us are in this room because we believe in this school district and want to see it succeed. I would like to see more money in the bond issue. I will support and vote for it," said George.

Wildwood resident Chris Banan used her two daughters, who are 17 years apart in age, as examples. She said she saw the benefits afforded to her older daughter when she moved from a private school into LaSalle Springs Middle School, and then on into Eureka High School. "Now I have a 10-year-old daughter, and I'd like her to have the same opportunities."

Banan said she was speaking up in support of Rockwood teachers. "We don’t want them to leave the district. They are worth 10 times what they are paid. I've seen them take money out of their own pocket to decorate rooms and get trinkets for kids."

Having gone to all the Picture Rockwood meetings, Banan said it was good that new curriculum and technology rose to the top of priorities. "But what good is the use of technology without excellent teachers? Why did I go through the whole Picture Rockwood process if teacher salaries are not even going to be looked at?"

Rockwood patron Patrick Morrissey told Rockwood's board of education directors everyone can do better than what was proposed, because the Picture Rockwood process was flawed.

Morrissey called the process an "illogical approach," due to how many participants were teachers, administrators, or someone affiliated with a Rockwood school. "I was always out-voted at my table at the sessions, and the vote always went to benefiting the teachers."

He said he suspected 40.2 percent of those who had participated in the Picture Rockwood process had a conflict of interest, given the data about how many participants were there as Rockwood parents only. 

Morrissey also communicated he didn't know if it made sense to add teachers when Rockwood student enrollment is projected to decrease over the next 15 years.

Overall Recommendations Presented Thursday Evening:

  1. Use available reserves to aid in balancing the fiscal year 2014 budget.
  2. Continue to identify and implement appropriate cost-saving measures.
  3. Place a no-tax rate increase bond issue on the April 2013 ballot, focusing on safety initiatives, technology and facility maintenance and improvements. Providing funds for facilities and technology from the bond issue allows district administrators to allocated potential dollars in the operating budget to begin to accomplish priorities identified in the Picture Rockwood program.
  4. Immediately announce the lawful and best practice procedures the district will have in place to seek requests for proposals and selection of a construction manager program, if the bond issue is placed on the ballot.
  5. Create and implement an intensive education and communication plan to continue discussions among Rockwood constituents regarding the importance of the priorities that have been identified by Picture Rockwood.

Rockwood Board of Education president Janet Strate thanked all of the co-chairs and facilitating committee members for their work, stating that a 30-hour investment of time had to be a very conservative estimate.

The Rockwood directors took no action or votes Thursday evening. "We have quite a bit of homework to do," said Strate.

"We'd like to digest the information and be able to ask questions."

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