Superintendent Eric Knost saw one of his goals become reality Tuesday when the district hosted its first town hall meeting at . Approximately 75 people attended, ranging from parents in the district to outside residents and local representatives.
Knost, who said he wanted to involve the community by receiving feedback in a neutral setting, started the meeting by setting a calm and productive tone.
“I want to engage people with the common ground of doing what’s good for the Mehlville School District, and in turn what’s good for the community,” he said. “I want this to be…your concerns, your comments your questions.”
Knost said he did not want the meeting to turn into the , in which residents spoke on one or two issues against a specific board member or topic.
“We’d like to try and keep it positive. This doesn’t mean I don’t want you to be candid,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen…where we’re singling people out or not liking what this board member does…the only parameters I’m putting in place is to act as adults.”
When residents started speaking, their comments ranged from bus routes to PTO challenges to more ways to get the community involved in the school district.
Sonny Ketcham, a resident of the district, had a suggestion to increase engagement outside of district parents.
“Two of the people that I voted for… Ms. (Cloria) Brown and Sen. (Jim) Lembke, I had already decided to vote for them when it was time to vote,” Ketcham said. “One of the things that solidified that is they came to my house to talk to me. In 13 years, I’ve had extremely little involvement with the administration.”
Ketcham lives in the district but home-schools his children. He has used district facilities such as the pool and supported the school district on the ballot when it came to tax increases, he said.
The meeting brought several residents whose children do not attend Mehlville schools, but who said they support the district.
“I firmly believe in a strong school district,” said George Weindel, whose now adult children attended parochial school. “I think that’s the best thing for the value of my house is to have a good, strong school district. If I have to pay an increase in taxes to do that, I’m just tickled to death. I'll do it.”
Weindel also spoke to a subject several speakers brought up: the economy and its effect on senior citizens in the area.
Celeste Witzel said she was contacted to speak on behalf of senior citizens in the district.
“It’s easy to forget about the people that live inside the houses that provide the tax money because you don’t see them all and don’t meet them in conjunction with school events… but they still are around,” she said. “There are times, especially I’d say the last four to five to six years, people don’t have a lot of extra money right now…It’s not that they don’t want to give to the district…the fact remains, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money to give.”
But Weindel said that he as a senior citizen made it a priority to give to the district.
“I am one of those senior citizens. I am retired. I’m on a fixed income, and if I have to pay a little bit more, I think it's in the best interest to keep the quality of the teachers and administrators that we have in the school district,” he said.
With financial concerns looming, Laurie Brickey presented board president Venki Palamand with a check to the district from the Missouri National Education Association.
MNEA president Chris Guinther, on the recommendation of , gave $500 from the organization’s charitable fund to the district.
But residents spoke on more than just finances.
Craig Crawford from the PTO wanted to call attention to the difficulty parent organizations were having with the county’s rules on hosting fundraisers.
An event permit costs an organization $63 he said, and on top of signage applications and the four-event limit in commercial locations, a large amount of money initially going to the school is detracted.
“This is something the community should start trying to talk to the county to get those fees waived for nonprofits,” he said.
Rep. Cloria Brown, who was in attendance, said she would have a conversation with County Councilman Steve Stenger (D-6th District) about finding a solution.
District resident Nancy Kristman asked the superintendent to contact the high school’s athletic directors with concerns for the Oakville and Mehlville cross-country teams.
Her concerns stemmed from a during a training session in early October. Knost said he would follow up with the coaches and athletic directors of both high schools.
In his closing remarks, Knost called the first town hall meeting a success and said he would like to have them every quarter or twice a year. More than one resident agreed.
“Unfortunately, when you speak at a board meeting, that’s all you get to do is speak,” said Mehlville resident Ken Smith. “You ask questions. You’re given a couple of minutes. This is the perfect venue to get everybody out there…This is the venue you need to get the community involved.”