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Rockwood Schools' Fiscal Health Spurs Debate Among Candidates

Four in race for Rockwood's school board join forum Tuesday at Crestview Middle School.

Four candidates. Two open seats. With a projected $6.8 million shortfall in the Rockwood School District's budget, there are multiple proposals on ways to help close that gap amid the potential sale of school bonds.

These are the core elements residents in the Rockwood School District will consider at the polls April 3, when voters will decide whether to approve the sale of school bonds, typically paid back with interest over a 12-year period, as well as who should sit on the Rockwood Board of Education to allot the district's available finances.

About 40 people got the chance to interact with those four candidates through a forum Tuesday night at

Board candidate  of Ellisville, who works as a certified public accountant and fraud examiner under UHY Advisors, said he supports the bond issue.

"Does it mean that I believe that every line item within the budget is correct and something that we should spend money on? No, not necessarily," Hieken said. "But the overwhelming majority of the items that are in the issue are important to the district."

"We have a qualified board that went through (the budget) and said these are things the school district currently needs, and I overwhelmingly think that the majority of the items in there are necessary to continue the reputation that Rockwood has."

Candidates and Chesterfield residents and took a slightly different approach, expressing concerns about limitations on how funds from the sale of bonds can be spent.

State law mandates that money raised through bonds can only be spent on things like infrastructure such as improvements or additions to buildings, or in some cases, on paying down existing debt.

According to the district’s 2011 financial report, Rockwood’s total bonded debt is more than $231 million, compared to actual revenues last year of roughly $251 million and expenditures of $288 million. In April 2010, Rockwood voters approved a $55 million bond issue.

“If (this April's bond issue) doesn’t pass, we’re going to have some hard decisions to make next year,” Kelly said Tuesday. “If you ask me, $43 million is a lot of money to ask for—considering the portion that is of our regular budget. I’ll be surprised if it goes through.”

In response to a question regarding possible spending reductions versus a potential tax levy, Rogers said the board should first seek to renegotiate contracts and reach out to the district’s vendors for reduced pricing before proposing a tax increase.

“We are obligated to first look for reallocating resources anywhere we can from non-essential areas such as general and administrative expenses or any other type of overhead before we look anywhere else,” Rogers said. “I think we owe that to our constituents.”

All four candidates expressed concerns about the district’s communication with the public following multiple questions Tuesday about and possible .

of Eureka, whose wife teaches at Chesterfield’s and daughter teaches at Rockwood Valley Middle School, said he receives healthcare benefits as a former Rockwood teacher, but said he would recuse himself from any votes affecting salaries or benefits if he's elected.

“I thought about this before I filed,” Brown said. “I said what am I bringing to the table that offsets having to recuse myself on those issues. And I think I bring a lot of the things we’re talking about—communicating throughout the district and being able to walk in and maybe convince people that respect my opinion when we have to make some tough decisions that we’re not going to be able to dodge.”

Audience member Bob George of Eureka, 54, said after the forum that with at least two new faces bound for the school board, there will be a learning curve—a curve that’s unlikely to allow much time to address concerns related to public perception.

“I think Bill Brown said it right when he said there was an elephant in the room that kept coming up in the questions, and I think that when you get on the board, you’re going to have to address those elephants.”

Patch will continue to follow the Rockwood Board of Education race. The election is April 3.

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