State of the district addressed

Rockwood regroups to tackle crucial issues.

“We do whatever it takes to ensure all students realize their potential;” RSD’s mission statement is prominently displayed on the front page of the Rockwood website. Although this is a common goal, plans on how to facilitate maximum potential success vary widely among those in authority in the district.

The district, much like the nation, suffers from paralyzing politics, a new, untested decision-making body, a departing controversial leader leaving a larger leadership void and unclear fiscal health.

The board of education

Like Congress, the BOE is always present, the definitive check on the actions of their only employee the superintendent.

Mrs. Loralee Mondl and Mr. Jeffrey Morrell

were sworn in to their new board positions, April 4, after voters elected them to replace incumbents Mrs. Janet Strate and Mr. Stephen Banton, April 2. Mrs. Strate served on the BOE the last nine years and Mr. Banton the last 15.

In addition, Mr. Stephen Smith resigned, March 3.

Now the longest occupancy of any BOE member is two years.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes it is welcomed.

“One thing I’ve noticed since [the new members] have been installed is that they seem to be very involved right off the bat,” Mrs. Deborah Asher, head principal, said. “They’re asking questions and they’re reaching out to people. It’s always a learning curve when you start a position of any kind, but they appear to me that they are going to be very active board members. There’s been a lot of changes and I think I’m ready along with the majority of people to move forward to get Rockwood back in a positive light and recognize all of the great things that are going on here.”

The BOE accepted applications for the new position through April 19 and will interview applicants in an open forum to appoint the seventh member, April 25.

Students keep their education a priority.

“They need to keep what’s best for the students in mind,” Emily Buatois (12) said.

The quality of education in RSD could be threatened by the politics. The results of the April 2 elections and the turnover on the board speak to voters’ disappointment.

“Some people were just mad at the Board of Education or what they perceive the Board of Education has done or said,” Dr. Keith Kinder, BOE director, said in a phone interview conducted April 5.

The Board elected Mr. Bill Brown, president, April 4. He replaces Mrs. Strate.

This new BOE is now tasked with finding a new superintendent since Dr. Bruce Borchers officially accepted the offer of the superintendent position in the Oak Ridge School District in Tennessee, April 1, according to the Oak Ridge School District website.

Dr. Borchers

While RSD did not confirm his departure until April 16, rumors of the application submitted to the Tennessee school district were widespread and confirmed after the Knoxville News Sentinel published a narrowed list of candidates released by the Oak Ridge BOE.

“It’s just really bad timing for our district [for Borchers to leave],” Jeffrey Lazar (12) said. “The school district is just in a lot of trouble right now, and this is probably a good time for him to get out. He’s been pressured a lot because there’s been a lot of negative press about him, so I could understand why he would want out.”

Dr. Borchers released a statement through on the RSD website, March 28: “My professional career has been devoted to continuous improvement. I have always been open to opportunities to work with school districts and Boards who share that vision. That is what led me to Rockwood— and what is now leading me to explore an opportunity with Oak Ridge.”

This new job shortens Borchers’ tenure to a little over two years.

“He is cutting edge when it comes to education and technology, all of the aspects that make the school district very successful,” Dr. Kinder said. “I just feel bad that he didn’t get the chance to do all of the things that he wanted [here].”

His administration was plagued by controversy:

• Walking in without experience with a top-paying salary

• The hiring of two former colleagues as consultants for more than $30,000 each for 17 days of work, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

• The subsequent hiring of those colleagues to high-level cabinet positions

• The restructuring of the curriculum department and loss of experienced personnel

• Changes in the curriculum-writing process

• Dramatic reductions in the budget while growing the fund balance

• The reduction of VICC enrollees

“I know he was in a bad situation coming in with a lot of the public opinion of him,” Alex Roberds (11) said. “I’ve personally met him, and he’s a great guy. I don’t think he would have been able to accomplish much if he would’ve stayed, so I’m glad he got a job somewhere else. I’m looking forward to the community getting over blaming him for everything that went wrong. It would be good to have some new administration at the top.”

Dr. Borchers declined an interview.

A new superintendent offers the community a chance to move forward and shift focus to the future of students and their education.

“Communication is going to be key to build trust within the community and s/he needs to have a strong educational vision,” Mrs. Jenni Highfill, World Languages Department chair, said. “It’s important that we start to look forward. We need to find a great superintendent who can really pull everybody together because we are really divided right now.”

The BOE will address the future superintendent search process at a meeting, April 18.

The budget

Just as the country struggles to manage its debt against its needs, the district seeks to establish a balanced budget.

The district sought funds for building improvements and technology updates through Proposition S, approved by the BOE, failed, April 2.

Election results provided a glimpse into the voters’ minds.

“Some citizens were disappointed in the new superintendent bringing in his cronies just after he had taken over without considering other people in the district that might have been able to fill those positions,” Mr. Steve Collins, Rockwood parent and voter, said. “Also, the fact that a school board member worked for Glenn Construction and the work was not bid out properly gave the appearance of impropriety. The audit right before the election submitted a report that suggested the Glenn Construction potentially overbilled the district by $1 million. All of those issues raised a lot of questions about whether the school district was being run as it should be run.”

Current budget numbers speak to this fiscal confusion. Years of cuts and off projections have resulted in unexpectedly large reserves.

Mr. Tim Rooney, Chief Financial and Legislative Officer,

joined the district just this year and has been tackling its finances while the state conducted its audit.

He projects a fund balance at the end of this year to be over $50 million, after the BOE approves to spend $5.1 million to cover this year’s deficit, Mr. Rooney said to the BOE during the April 11 BOE meeting.

EHS continues to have needs that go unchecked, needs Prop S would have addressed.

“We are below standard compared to the district with our locker rooms,” Mrs. Highfill said. “It is a travesty that accommodations haven’t been made for this prior to this bond issue. I am also very concerned about the antiquated technology. The technology was a key component that got left out.”

If the superintendent—whomever s/he may be—allocates money from the operating budget to accommodate these priorities then the district may have to make cuts elsewhere to avoid generating more deficit spending.

The voters may have used their vote to communicate a larger displeasure with the district leadership.

“I don’t think people were necessarily opposed to [the improvements mentioned in the bond issue],” Dr. Kinder said. “So they weren’t necessarily voting against the items. They felt that we have enough money in our existing budget to cover those so they supported taking it out of the operating budget instead of a bond issue.”

Future voter confidence could be the determining factor in the future of EHS.

In 2000, Eureka had 1,234 students which has grown to 1,965 students. Eureka’s campus, including its locker rooms, was built in the 1970s for a school that had 584 students.

“Eureka has been playing catchup,” Dr. Kinder said. “I agree that Eureka High School needs a new set of locker rooms to handle the size. That’s only one of the problems Eureka has. Eureka is still a growing high school. It’s not just locker rooms; it’s going to be more classrooms.”

The other three high schools were built for the size that they are now. Lafayette was built for 2,000 plus students. Marquette was built for 2,200. Rockwood Summit was built for about 1,400 students. The infrastructure is there and can be improved simply with updates, according to Dr. Kinder.

“Eureka is going to need the most attention in the future,” Dr. Kinder said. “Eureka is trying to upgrade, but they’re also trying to keep up with the growth. That’s something that we as a district have to be concerned about.”

The future state of the district will be determined by a handful of people new to their positions.