Rockwood Board of Education places $38.4 million bond issue on April ballot
By: Carol Enright
After four months of gathering community input, the Picture Rockwood Facilitating Team presented its recommendation regarding the future of Rockwood schools to the Board of Education on Jan. 10.
The highlight of the team’s recommendation was placing a $36.6 million no-tax rate increase bond issue on the April 2013 ballot exclusively focused on safety and security initiatives ($5 million), technology ($9.4 million), and facility maintenance and improvements ($19.7 million). The team said that these three issues were the ones that resonated with the community and were most likely to receive widespread support.
The team also estimated that another $2.5 million would be needed to cover the costs associated with architectural and engineering permits.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Board approved going forward with the bond issue – which it is calling Proposition S for students – increasing the amount to $38.4 million to include renovations to the kitchens and cafeterias of Stanton and Uthoff Valley elementary schools. The Picture Rockwood team had already recommended renovating the kitchen and cafeteria space of Eureka Elementary, primarily to address electrical wiring issues.
Assistant superintendent, Dennis Griffith, said that while 10 Rockwood schools were in need of kitchen and/or cafeteria renovations, Eureka, Stanton and Uthoff Valley were in “the worst” condition.
If successful, the proposed bond issue would free up funds in the operating budget to support other priorities identified during the Picture Rockwood process. These include improving curriculum, maintaining current class sizes, hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes and increasing teachers’ salaries to be in line with those of other St. Louis County school districts. The team recommended that the Board use available fund reserves to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget and fund some of these priorities.
Picture Rockwood began in September and included a series of four workshops that were attended by more than 400 community members. Participants outlined what they viewed as key priorities for the district and recommendations for funding those priorities. The facilitating team also collected feedback from the community via more than 740 feedback forms, an online survey of 500 respondents and a telephone survey of 400 registered voters.
Almost two-thirds of telephone respondents said they favored a no-tax rate increase bond issue for improving district facilities. However, less than one third of respondents said they would support a tax increase.
In spite of support for tuition-free, full-day kindergarten expressed by those in attendance at the Jan. 10 Board meeting, the facilitating team said that community feedback did not indicate widespread support for no-cost, full-day kindergarten. In fact, only 38 percent of those surveyed by telephone rated it as a high priority.
All sources of feedback suggested a significant distrust of district leadership. Facilitating co-chair, Park Plank, said that, based on community feedback the team recommends that “district leadership and the Board needs to acknowledge past questionable decisions” and immediately announce the lawful and best practice procedures the district will have in place to seek requests for proposals and the selection of a construction management program if a bond issue is placed on the ballot.
Superintendent Bruce Borchers addressed this issue at the Jan. 17 meeting prior to a discussion regarding the revision of several district policies that govern the hiring of consultants, vendor/contract relations and purchasing. (The Board will vote on these policy revisions at its Feb. 7 meeting.)
“Given the questions about decisions that were made regarding consultants earlier, I, like anybody, wish I could go back in time and make different decisions,” Borchers said, alluding to the controversial hiring of two consultants in 2011.
The superintendent said the Board would “make sure we follow clear and consistent policies in the future.”
At the Jan. 10 meeting, facilitating team co-chair, Shemain Kenney, said that because the community had invested so much time over the past few months in providing feedback to the district time was of the essence.
“If you don’t do it in April, you’re going to lose that momentum,” said Kenney.