Board considers ‘protection’ resolution


Larry Felton

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Mehlville School District Board of Education is considering the adoption of a “Student Protection Resolution” that would put the board on-record as officially opposed to private and for-profit companies educating or managing student education without the supervision of an elected, volunteer school board composed of residents in the district.

The resolution states that “any school receiving public funds should be required to educate all students, regardless of the student’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, disability, socioeconomic status or proficiency in the English language,” and the board would oppose “educational options where schools directly or indirectly receive public funds if the school is not required to enroll and educate all students or the school is allowed” to selectively enroll students.

The resolution was put together by the Missouri School Boards Association and several other school boards associated with the state association have adopted it, including the Maplewood-Richmond Heights Board of Education in February.

Board member Larry Felton, who oversees the board’s new legislative advocacy committees, introduced the resolution at the meeting April 29.

“It serves two purposes. One, it kind of gives you an awareness of some of the issues surrounding public schools and some of the other situations going on (in the state Legislature),” said Felton. “The scope of this really is to, I think, lay out what the expectations are for meeting the needs of all people in our community and having consistent accountability directly to the school.”

Board member Tori Behlke questioned the value behind adopting the resolution.

“I agree with this document and what it has to say … but knowing that it doesn’t have any teeth … I think that it would to me … make more sense to have conversations and face-to-face interactions … and not a piece of paper that was a signed resolution,” said Behlke.

Board member Jean Pretto, a member of the Advocacy Committee, pointed out that if enough school boards signed that resolution, it could “certainly raise the eyebrows” of some legislators.

“I look at this as kind of like a tool. You go to (Jefferson) City and you want to sit down with one of our representatives who represents four or five school districts,” added Felton. “Now four or five districts walk in with this and say —  ‘We all have a common feeling that these things should be straightened out and we don’t like the direction you’re taking.’”

But Behlke said that none of that would come as a shock to lawmakers.

“Those who are trying to make the laws … know we feel this way. It’s like we’re trying to acknowledge something that we think they don’t know,” Behlke said.

Board President Kevin Schartner took

a different approach, pointing out that the resolution could be seen as a political statement to members in the community.

“One of my concerns with this is something that we’ve seen … recently —  that somebody takes a stand or a company takes a stand or an individual takes a stand and suddenly there’s political retribution,” said Schartner. “When you get into the fray, when you get into the ring — which (the resolution) would be getting into the ring — are we really wanting to do that and everything that comes with it? Because that’s got to be a conscious choice. … We’re a non-political board.”

“This is apolitical, however it does affect the overall institution of public education,” countered Pretto, who has run twice in the last four years for the 94th District Missouri House seat. “I think it’s rather benign.”

Felton pointed to an effort in the state Legislature to move school board elections traditionally held in April to November as proof that school boards are effective advocates.

“Anytime you stand for something, there’s going to be somebody who doesn’t like it. Whether we do this or not, public school board members have a target on their backs anyways,” said Felton. “Why else would they want to move our elections … and put us at the end of the ballot? Because we’re effective advocates, that’s why. Whether we endorse the resolution or not, the question is what do we do with the responsibility we have to our school district.”

Legislation was filed this past legislative session that would have changed the municipal election date from April to November. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, passed through several committees but ultimately did not make it any further before the regular session ended in May.

“If we don’t have everybody on board (with the resolution), would we still want to go forward with it?” said Schartner. “Or would we take the approach of, if we don’t have everybody on board, let’s still pursue the thing … but maybe refrain” from endorsing the entire resolution.

After some further discussion Felton said that he would see what other districts in St. Louis County had adopted the resolution, and asked that other board members send him concerns and suggestions on how to improve the language of the resolution for consideration at an upcoming meeting.