State Of The District

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, superintendent Dr. Chris Gaines gave his State of the District presentation.

Watch the 2018 State of the District presentation:

State of the District: Looking to a brighter future
By Dr. Chris Gaines, Superintendent of Mehlville School District

During my annual State of the District address this fall, I shared the past, present and future of Mehlville School District.

We've come a long way since our first-known school, Point School, started holding classes in 1840. The 1800s and 1900s saw rapid growth in schools, student population and, most recently, in innovation in education. With all of these changes, I find it helpful to take stock of our present reality.
Where we are today
Unlike the growth we've seen in the past, now we're seeing enrollment decline. We have more diversity than ever — more than 50 languages are spoken by our students. We also have a larger percentage of students living in poverty.

Today, our students no longer sit in rows and listen to instruction all day like they did in the past. They have a variety of learning tools and technology at their fingertips. They sit where they feel comfortable and can even direct their own learning.

We have a strategic plan that guides our work. The first goal of our plan is student preparation, and within that goal, we focus on student engagement, continuous improvement and innovation. Our second goal is teacher support, and our third goal is being an effective and efficient system.

Our Portrait of a Graduate also guides our work. This portrait answers an important question: What are the skills and attributes we want our students to have attained by graduation? Our answer is this: We want them to be ethical and global citizens, creative and critical thinkers, self-aware, persistent, and good communicators.

Our budget has improved in recent years, but it's still thin. The state transportation formula is underfunded by $190 million. The state legislature continues to change the formula for how it funds public schools, reducing funds paid to school districts. Our blended tax rate is the third lowest in the county, even after a tax increase.

Our salaries are behind our competitors. Many would like to see us expand some education programs, but we simply don’t have the resources. We have 1.8 million square feet of facilities under roof, and in the current fiscal year, we are funding repairs at just $1.50 per square foot. We have more needs than funds, and we are falling behind.

Our last significant investment in facilities was in 2000. The 2016 voter-approved tax transfer of 4 cents only funds roofs and HVAC and will sunset after 10 years. Meanwhile, most other school districts in the county have passed capital investments on a cyclical basis. Most have made three significant investments in facilities since 2001.

Our parents have told us that we need improved HVAC. Twelve buildings need HVAC replaced before 2021, but these buildings are not even on the schedule because we have higher priorities. Parents also tell us we need better parking, upgraded restroom facilities, and improved security and safety features.

What's in our future?
In spite of today's reality, I think we have a bright future. One reason is because we've planned our work to align with our strategic plan. For example, we currently have a schedule for updating and improving curriculum. We have a plan for staff development and a schedule for innovative learning. We also have a schedule for capital improvements and repairs. We are working to get caught up, and we’re making short-term decisions to achieve our goals.

The second reason I'm optimistic about our future is because we have a unique opportunity in 2020 to invest in facilities and operations without an increase in the tax rate. In 2020, we will have paid off enough of our 2000 lease purchase to transfer about 47 cents to a new investment in facilities. We can start down the path of our fellow St. Louis County school districts that make cyclical investments in facilities. In order to place something on the 2020 ballot, there is important work that has to be done by a steering committee, our administration and the Board of Education over the next few months. However, Mehlville School District belongs to the community. And ultimately, the community will decide if 2020 is the time to make a major investment in its schools.
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