Rockwood School District taxpayers sounded off Sunday about hiring practices, excessive salaries and the use of school tax revenue in the first meeting of a group called Concerned Patrons of Rockwood.
Rockwood taxpayer Dennis Broadbooks' reaction to recent, widespread criticism of school district's hiring practices was to organize a town hall meeting.
The meeting, at in Wildwood, lasted a couple of hours and attracted nearly 35 participants, including parents; residents who send their children to private schools and others with no school-age children who are interested in how their tax dollars are being spent.
In recent weeks Rockwood Superintendent Bruce Borchers has come under fire for his hiring practices and use of district funds to hire two consultants as full-time Rockwood administrators. Although he issued a public apology, criticism of him and the administration has continued. The resulting controversy left some Rockwood taxpayers thirsty for more facts. They also want to see more transparency in the activities of the district.
Town Hall Opens Dialogue
Broadbooks, of Wildwood, has lived with his family in West County since 1977. He has worked in the insurance industry for 34 years.
"What qualifies me to talk about these issues, and why I'm here today, is that my family pays taxes in Rockwood," he said.
Broadbrooks said he paid $2,461.24 in school taxes to the Rockwood School District (RSD) last year.
"That level of money entitles us to have input with what they do, including their hiring practices," he said.
Broadbooks said Rockwood's 11-page organizational chart is “a monstrosity.”
"Look what box is at the top of the RSD organizational chart," he said. "It says citizens at the top. This is coming straight from the district's website. Who’s the boss, then? We are. And that's why we should have the authority to have discussions like this."
Of particular concern to Broadbrooks was the full-time hiring of the two consultants, who had worked with Borchers in his former school district in Minnesota.
Rockwood officials have said a typical hiring process was used to hire the consultants, which sought input from teachers, administrators and parents. There were 93 applicants for the two positions, according to a Rockwood spokesman, with six applicants receiving interviews. The district said it was a coincidence that the two people hired were the ones who helped Borchers develop a new reorganization plan. The two new hires were Nancy DuBois, as executive director of learning and support services, and Randy Smasal, as associate superintendent of learning.
What Participants Voiced
Rob Thoele is a graduate who lives in Ballwin and has two children in the Rockwood district. When property assessments went up four years ago, increasing his taxes by $1,000 per year, Thoele complained to the district about its tax “windfall.” He said he was asked to be on the Rockwood finance committee.
"It was mainly Rockwood employees, principals and PTO members. I was the only non-connected patron," he said.
Thoele said Rockwood was in the habit of sponsoring no-tax-increase bonds every two years. "The board asked for a million dollar of savings, but we on the finance committee didn’t have input into that," he said.
He said he asked why the district was giving salary increases when it was going into the red.
"’Why are you rocking the boat? This is how we do it. Whatever increases we give to teachers, we also give to principals and superintendents,’ I was told,” Thoele said.
He said he suggested Rockwood be operated like a business, but was told that was not possible.
Thoele said Rockwood's CFO was making a six-figure salary and that directors were averaging $110,000-a-year salaries. He said the common response was that they would be making higher salaries in the private sector, and that it's "not like we were being given something we don’t deserve."
Thoele declined to serve on the finance committee after Borchers was hired, saying the district is in “crisis mode.
"I think my kids are getting a good education at Rockwood, but if it's not at a good value, then why are we doing what we're doing?"
Another speaker, Chris Howard, said he has two children attending Ballwin Elementary School. "When you compare school districts, it's like comparing binge drinkers. You can talk about who drinks the least or the most, but it's still all about drinking," he said.
Howard said he grew up in a Chicago suburb, which he likened to Ladue.
"We were bigger than Marquette or . But we only had one superintendent, who made less than $100,000 a year," he said. "I haven’t met Bruce (Borchers), and I'm sure he’s a really good guy. But with a quarter million dollars funding, we could have paid for teacher salary increases, reinstated some Rockwood programs that had to be stopped, or could've not spent it all."
Howard said he believed Rockwood was a great district compared to many others, but that it is "a Byzantine Empire.
"Rockwood is bigger and more encompassing than many congressional districts. It’s enormous. It can do whatever it wants to do!" he said. “Unless we all get together, they are going to continue to do what they do. I don’t want to hurt the teachers, but I believe there are plenty of places to cut from."