Applications due Dec. 12 for Mehlville School District’s superintendent’s post

Trakas believes Felton’s vote on contract violated district’s conflict-of-interest policy

The job posting for the Mehlville superintendent vacancy is now live on the MSBA website.

The job posting for the Mehlville superintendent vacancy is now live on the MSBA website.

By Gloria Lloyd

With a search firm and a time line for a superintendent search in place, the Mehlville Board of Education’s job posting to find the next person to hold the district’s top job went live late last week, with applications due Dec. 12.

The listed salary range for the new superintendent position is $175,000 to $200,000, according to the job posting written by Missouri School Boards’ Association, or MSBA, consultant Brent Underwood. However, that salary range is “negotiable,” the posting states.

Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder makes $195,000 this year, with a $10,000 moving allowance.

The posting anticipates a hiring date of Feb. 12 with a three-year contract beginning July 1. The listed job requirements are standard for superintendent jobs: administrative and central office experience and superintendent’s certificate required.

However, in one change from the requirements for some superintendents’ positions, a doctorate is preferred, rather than required.

Former Mehlville Superintendent John Cary, who retired in 2003, did not have a doctoral degree, but all five superintendents who have followed him have had doctorates, except Terry Noble.

However, just as the Mehlville search got started and the job opening was posted, it already had a setback: The board will consider whether to reverse its 5-2 Oct. 23 decision to hire MSBA for the superintendent search at its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Nov. 20 in the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

Board member Larry Felton voted to hire MSBA for the superintendent search, and he is the vice president of the MSBA board of directors.

At the Mehlville board’s meeting last week, board Secretary Lori Trakas noted that she believes the vote violated a Mehlville policy that asks board members to “avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof”— a policy that was actually written by the MSBA, which the board pays $2,850 each year to write and review district policies.

Felton told the Call that he does not believe his vote has the appearance of a conflict of interest, or he would have recused himself.

But Trakas said she asked board President Ron Fedorchak to ask Felton to recuse himself.

“I said, ‘Ron, I don’t think Larry can vote,’ and you said, ‘No, he can,’ and then I do believe it does violate our policies,” Trakas said. “And I believe it does send the message to our community, are we even acknowledging our policies? Much less the company that provided the policy — I would have thought they would have said to (their) executive director, ‘You need to recuse yourself.'”

Trakas wants the board to rethink using MSBA for the superintendent search entirely and go with a nationwide search firm instead. The board heard from four firms this summer, including MSBA.

“I also believe those search firms that came and presented to us, that’s all they do is search, and they do nationwide searches,” she said. “I think we owe it to our public for a professional firm where that’s all they exclusively focus on, I think we owe it to not only our community, but our teachers, our staff, everybody — we have one shot to get this right.”

MSBA is a nonprofit organization comprised of school board members statewide and also has a political arm of two staffers in Jefferson City and takes political stances, which has put it at odds with some Mehlville board members.

However, for MSBA dues of roughly $10,000, Mehlville saves $70,000 each year on utility purchases through cooperative purchasing, Felton said.

When Trakas requested that a board member make a motion to reconsider the MSBA contract, Samantha Stormer made the motion, which Trakas seconded.

“That implies that there was something for me to gain by this,” Felton said. “Does anybody believe that I would pick a vendor that would harm this district?”

“We had three (residents) stand here tonight and have that exact perception that we thought the public would have if you didn’t recuse yourself from the vote,” Stormer said. “Nobody thinks you would do anything to hurt the district. Again, it’s a perception, though.”

Although the board will discuss the issue at its next meeting, since the contract with Underwood is already signed, the district would probably owe MSBA the money promised under the contract even if it hired a different search firm, Ridder said.

“This is kind of after the fact,” board member Jean Pretto said.