Webster Groves School District Board of Education members were still aglow from the overwhelming passage of Proposition E on April 2 when they met for their first post-election meeting on April 8.

The next steps toward implementing the school security and space maximizing solutions, which voters approved by nearly a 78-percent majority, were the focus at the meeting.

Webster Groves School District Finance Director Bruce Ellerman recommended the board set May 14 as sale date for just over half the $22 million in general revenue bonds. The bonds will finance the construction of a new Hixson Middle School that will house the district’s sixth grade classes and implement safety measures at other schools in the district.

Ellerman said the district is better off splitting the bonds into two separate sales to minimize interest costs because bonds under $10 million are categorized as “bank-qualified.” Board Member David Addison asked Ellerman if there might be an even greater financial benefit if the bond was marketed in three packages, but Ellerman said any additional benefits would be negated by other factors.

After approving the proposed bond sale schedule, the board also approved Ellerman’s recommendation that design work for the additions and alterations to Hixson Middle School be awarded to Dickinson Hussman Architects, and design of the new safety, security and accessibility improvements go to Hoener Architects. The district will pay Dickinson Hussman $995,000 and Hoener $588,000, with both contracts having been competitively bid.

Webster Groves School District Superintendent John Simpson said a priority moving toward the 2021 completion of the projects is to systematically involve students, teachers and administrators who will be affected. Changes include relocating sixth graders at Hixson Middle School and transforming the Steger Sixth Grade Center/Givens Elementary School into a neighborhood elementary school.

“We need to continue to care for people during the change process,” Simpson said. “Some of these changes are more emotional than others, and rightfully so. There needs to be a lot of transparency and empathy.”

Simpson said the process of redrawing school boundary lines will require a lot of thought and care. The boundary redraw will be the board’s main focus for the next 12 months.

Teacher’s Reassignment

Details are patchy due to the school district’s personnel confidentiality policy, but it became clear during the public comment portion of the board’s April 8 meeting that some people are displeased that Julie Burchett, who helped develop and coordinate the Chelsea Detrick Experiential Learning Center at Webster Groves High School, apparently will no longer be in a leadership role at the center.

Two students and two parents condemned the apparent decision to replace Burchett as coordinator at the center. Burchett has been a teacher in the district since 1997 and was instrumental in founding the center, which provides out-of-the-classroom learning through internships and travel with community partners.

Webster Groves High School senior Phil Freeman said Burchett’s removal felt like “an attack on my identity.” He singled out Webster Groves High School Principal Matt Irvin, suggesting he is out of touch with the views of the community.

The board and administration said little in response to the comments, but superintendent Simpson said afterward that Burchett is still under contract and will be teaching at the high school in the fall of 2019. Assistant Superintendent Sandy Wiley said that 23 applications have been received for the Chelsea Center coordinator post and that “students were involved in the process.”

Burchett did not respond when contacted for a comment.

Board Says Farewell To Loher

The board took the time to say farewell and share thoughts and anecdotes about Steve Loher, who did not seek re-election after nine years of service on the board. He was replaced by newly-elected member Alex Kahn. Kahn and incumbent Arnold Stricker were sworn in.

Amy Clendennen was re-elected board president and David Addison was re-elected vice president, and both will serve through 2020.